Tag Archive for romance

Blue is the Warmest Color Review (Film, 2013)

blueisthewarmestcolorposter Blue is the Warmest Color Review (Film, 2013)Blue is the Warmest Color is a quiet character study and romance unlocked by its title alone. Adele, a high school student focusing on literature, tries to fit in by dating the boy everyone knows she’s perfect for. She feels nothing from the relationship and winds up meeting Emma, a university fine arts student, at a lesbian bar. Emma’s bright blue hair catches her interest and helps her begin to form a sense of identity.

The color blue is important to the film. It really is a subtle device reflecting Adele’s self actualization. In the beginning of the film, when Adele is just following whatever her friends and family expect her to do, there is very little blue on the screen. The first memorable appearance of blue is a cross, Romeo & Juliet style, where Adele and Emma’s eyes meet while crossing the street and pass without incident. A bit more blue begins to fill Adele’s life as the thought of the beautiful stranger with blue hair sends her into sensory overload. The color blue grows and fades in shade (light blue is tepid, cyan is vivid, navy is overwhelming) and vibrancy to reflect Adele’s mental state and feeling of independence.

It really is quite remarkable how that kind of detail can set the tone for a film. By the time her high school friends realize Adele is a lesbian, you can’t avoid blue on the screen. Everyone is wearing dark wash jeans and vibrant scarves and hats. The sky is practically glowing and even the lockers in the school seem to transform. The dialogue is so simultaneously slice of life and driven by references to very specific philosophers, writers, and artists that the color conceit really opens up the text.

The Great Gatsby Review (Film, 2013)

The Great Gatsby is, for better or worse, a product of Modernism. For people who like Modernism with all the trimmings, that’s a great thing. The novel is heavily influenced by jazz culture (in setting and story structure). Everything and nothing happens as the plot very slowly unwinds. The focus is placed heavily on style and theme over character and story though, to be fair, The Great Gatsby has more plot than many other Modernist novels. For all the raucous bootleg liquor-fueled parties and general mayhem, the story is very quiet and small in its scope and ambitions.

thegreatgatsbyspectacle The Great Gatsby Review (Film, 2013)

You can’t call Baz Lurhmann a modest director in The Great Gatsby

Baz Lurhmann is the last man I expected to adapt this Jazz Age masterpiece of American Modernism for that very reason. Lurhmann is at his best with spectacle. Sure, the simple story and heavy romantic elements make The Great Gatsby a strong fit in his oeuvre–Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge! aren’t exactly heavy on the narrative. It is the intimate and tender nature of the work that would most likely prove problematic; it did.

The Great Gatsby is adapted here as a quasi-memoir within a wannabe writer’s therapy sessions. Nick Carraway is a WWI veteran, a failed writer, and a new bonds trader living in a small cottage in an affluent area of Long Island. His neighbor is Jay Gatsby, a famous and wealthy man who no one ever sees even at the garish parties he throws every weekend. Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan married millionaire Tom Buchanan and also live in the same Long Island neighborhood. Jordan Baker, the most famous female golfer in America and a friend of Daisy’s, tells Nick all the gossip about town, including how Tom is cheating on Daisy with a mechanic’s wife. Everything changes in Nick’s life when he becomes the first person to ever receive a written invitation to one of Gatsby’s elaborate parties.

In some ways, Baz Lurhmann and Craig Pearce’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is incredibly faithful. The scenes that move painfully slow in the book crawl onscreen. The shocking revelations and twisted series of secrets are as intriguing on film as they are on the page. Gatsby’s secret love is incredibly touching and Daisy’s life is tragic in spite of her own actions. The liberties that are taken have no bearing on the plot of the tiny thread Lurhmann and Pearce focus on.

thegreatgatsbystory The Great Gatsby Review (Film, 2013)

Jay Gatsby is not a subtle man by any means

However, in choosing not to pump up the story or trim away the meandering narration of this work of Modernism, Lurhmann and Pearce have crafted a screenplay that rejects the expected standards of cinema. The story moves in waves, ebbing and flowing in action and character development. Nothing will change for 30 minutes, then everything swings in a wildly different direction. It’s page-accurate to a fault.

A less extravagant director would have found a way to craft the intimacy and isolation necessary to take a literal approach to The Great Gatsby; not Baz Lurhmann. He provides spectacle in every scene even when it’s not needed. A string of pearls shoot out from the screen while Daisy recalls her wedding day with Tom. Cartoonish CGI automobiles fly down expressionist paintings of the fictional towns of East and West Egg and the valley of ashes. Every frame is so packed with details and anachronistic but thematically meaningful music that the story is never given room to breathe or even feel as hollow as it should.

thegreatgatsbyjordan The Great Gatsby Review (Film, 2013)

Jordan Baker is one of the more fascinating characters in the novel

While the film rightly puts focus on Leonardo DiCaprio’s masterful performance as Jay Gatsby, the next best performance is relegated to the sidelines to the determent of the adaptation. Elizabeth Debicki is stunning as Jordan Baker, the gossiping golfer and curiosity capturing America’s interest with her sporting achievements. Her physicality, her expression, and her conspiratorial whisper make every moment she has onscreen a treasure to behold.

In the novel, Jordan dates Nick Carroway for most of the story, adding a steady relationship to the potent mix of Daisy and Tom and the mistresses and fornicators. In Baz Lurhmann’s vision of the story, Jordan is discarded at the earliest possible moment with no fanfare or story of her own. It’s a big chunk of the thematic portrait of The Great Gatsby and one that is sorely missing in the over the top spectacle of mismatched partners.

The Great Gatsby is a really attractive film brought down by its own beauty and splendor. There can be an argument for the 3D spectacle of the film representing the rise and fall of Jay Gatsby, but there is nothing to indicate that in the screenplay or visual text of the film. What we’re left with is a pretty but hollow shell of an incredible novel that mimics but never fully realizes the great depth required to bring such shallow and petty characters to life.

Rating: 5/10

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Down With Love Review (Film, 2003)

Down With Love is over the top, cheesy, and rife with cliches. That’s also the entire point of the film. Writers Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake crafted the skeleton of a throwback Rock Hudson/Doris Day battle of the sexes madcap comedy and then subvert it every step of the way with clever spins on the romantic comedy formula.

In 1962, small town girl Barbara Novak arrives in NYC a week before her debut feminist book Down With Love is going to be published. The all-male marketing department of the publisher have no interest in promoting the text, so Barbara and her agent Vikki Hiller have to do it themselves. They arrange an interview with notorious womanizer Catcher Block for the largest male leisure magazine in the world. After being blown off three meetings in a row, Vikki and Barbara double down on the independent message of Down With Love and find success on their own terms. Barbara destroys Catcher’s reputation in the process, sending him into a twisted plot to restore his own status in the world. Who will wind up on top in a battle between the new and old guard of the non-fiction publishing industry?

downwithlovereview Down With Love Review (Film, 2003)Down With Love is all about design and betraying expectations. The art direction is phenomenal. Bright pops of color and striking graphics fill every inch of the frame, establishing a visual reference for the battle of the sexes. It’s far more nuanced than the pink and the blue of Barbara and Catcher’s lives. Catcher is constantly surrounded by traditional designs and what the mainstream culture would define as hip for a bachelor. Barbara is framed in sleek minimalism and explosive touches of Mod and Beatnik counter-cultures wherever she goes. Their meetings swing back and forth between the two worlds as the balance of power shifts in the relationship.

There are a few moments in the film that perhaps take the tongue in cheek tribute to the old madcap romances a bit too far. For example, through a constantly shifting onscreen divider and tight editing, Barbara and Catcher simulate various sexual positions. It’s just a bit too provocative in comparison to the more subtle approach the rest of the film takes.

Director Peyton Reed pushes the cast just a bit too far on occasion, creating tonally inconsistent moments of raunchy humor that would never appear in this style and period of film. It’s a great period to draw inspiration from. You just can’t establish the film as true to the time with a twist and then go that blue at key plot points for an extra laugh. It throws the film off-kilter every time it happens.

Down With Love is overall a sweet and funny diversion. Fans of madcap romantic comedies will find a lot to dig into in a mostly gentle send-up of the genre. A more film period-accurate approach to the material and staging would have made this soar.

Rating: 7/10

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Warm Bodies Review (Film, 2013)

Warm Bodies is a romcomzom (that’s a romantic comedy zombie film for those not in the know) focused on the comedy. It’s a wise choice since the romance happens between a living girl and a zombie boy. If the film went too serious, it would be unbearable. The over the top comedy, sight gags, and wordplay elevate the whole thing into a clever spin on Romeo & Juliet.

R is a zombie. It is the end of the world and the shambling dead far outnumber the living. R is capable of thought, reason, and even a few simple words. One day, he has an encounter with Julie, a living girl sent out of the walled-in living city to acquire medicine. Something clicks in R’s brain and he falls in love with Julie.

warmbodieslove Warm Bodies Review (Film, 2013)

Love at first shamble?

Writer/director Jonathan Levine adapts Isaac Marion’s YA novel into a very accessible and strange screenplay. There is a sharp, dry wit that runs throughout the entire film. Levine sticks with R’s first person narration from the novel but uses it as a tool to explore zombie angst. This is not post-production exposition to cover for narrative deficits. It’s a well-planned device to get the audience to empathize with a very uncommunicative leading character.

The biggest strength of the film is the production values. The design of the zombie makeup is really beautiful. With the right lighting and a little blood, the walking dead look menacing and dangerous. In everyday life, they’re just lost and confused former humans. It makes R’s journey all the more believable even before the makeup begins to shift from death to life.

warmbodiescolor Warm Bodies Review (Film, 2013)

Sharp production design really helps Warm Bodies stand out

The sets are perfect for the film. Airports without people always scream apocalypse so the decision to make R’s homebase an airport, specifically an airplane, is perfect. The airport is cast in drab shades of gray and the only zombie wearing color is R. You can’t take your eyes off of him in his home. Then when the wall of the city is revealed, it is just as gray and uninviting as the unlit airport.

The only big negative in the film is the music. There are some really clever moments with some very recognizable songs. These are big gags going into the last act and the have huge payoffs. The rest of the time, though, the music is a distraction. The original scoring sounds like old cellphones playing dubstep and the rest of the adapted soundtrack is thematically and tonally out of sync with the story.

The commitment of the entire cast, especially Rob Corddry as the second biggest zombie in the film, is what really elevates the feature. These actors are living these roles. It’s so taxing to stay in a consistent zombie shamble and they have to do everything from running to mundane day jobs in the hunched position of the walking dead. These are the moments that open up Warm Bodies into a very strong film. R and Juliet are the leads, but everyone else makes the film work.

Rating: 9/10

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Review (Film, 2012)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is the cinematic equivalent of freestyling at the club and dropping the mic when the beat drops out. Lorene Scafaria’s debut directorial effort (she previously wrote the charming screen adaptation of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) is a strong, stylish work fully committed to its conceit.

And what is that conceit? Scafaria wanted to write a film about the end of the world where the world actually ends at the end. No final mission to save mankind, no last minute “Look, it’s turning!” moment–just a film about the last days of mankind. It’s a tremendous success.

seekingafriend Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Review (Film, 2012)Dodge (Steve Carell) learns the world will end in three weeks due to a cataclysmic asteroid collision with earth. As soon as the radio story ends, Dodge’s wife flees the car and never comes back home. The world is ending and no one wants to waste their time being with anyone or doing anything they don’t want to except for Dodge. He goes to work, pays his housekeeper, and tries to make the most of the world ending. Then Penny (Keira Knightley) climbs outside of his window on the fire escape and quickly befriends him after years of never talking in their apartment complex.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a very dry comedy. The humor is dark and underplayed at the same time. A party scene sees seemingly reasonable adults cut loose and try out some of the worst illegal drugs available. Riots start just to start riots and restaurant employees hunker down and keep the party going 24/7 because why not? The world is ending. Who cares? Live for once in your life.

Except Penny and Dodge don’t want to live for once. They’ve already spent their entire lives screwing up at every turn and they’re tired of it. They don’t want excess. They want some sense of normalcy. Dodge seeks out the love of his life and Penny tags along because Dodge can get her on a recreational plane straight to England. They’re friends out of convenience, not out of any expectations of anything happening. The world will end in three weeks, so why not go out fighting?

The brilliance of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is the refusal to play into the ridiculous antics you would expect when the world will end. Do people get high and do stupid things? Of course. But Dodge and Penny stand their watching people throw their lives away and they choose to take the high road at every juncture.

That, right there, is the core of this film. You know what should happen in this kind of story, especially since it’s a comedy. Yet Lorene Scafaria refuses to take the predictable route. There is nothing typical about the world of this film, so why should the people that inhabit it play to the cliches you would expect of them? They will live their lives however they need to so they can go peacefully when the world ends.

Rating: 9/10

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Ruby Sparks Review (Film, 2012)

Apologies for the lack of content this week. I had some big articles I’ve been working on inspired by various anime and manga series. In light of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, their subject matter did not seem appropriate. The pieces will go up eventually, albeit in heavily revised forms that address but do not dwell on violence as metaphor.

rubysparksinspiration Ruby Sparks Review (Film, 2012)

Inspiration strikes in Ruby Sparks

Calvin Weir-Fields has a problem. It’s been years since his debut novel cemented him as a literary genius at the age of 19. He’s written nothing significant since. Short stories and essays can only stave off publisher angst so long. Under the suggestion of his therapist, Calvin writes a story about the kind of girl who would be liked by his anxiety-stricken dog. That girl is Ruby Sparks, who Calvin mysteriously turns into the living, breathing love of his life who will do anything he writes her to do.

rubysparksruby Ruby Sparks Review (Film, 2012)

Zoe Kazan stars as Ruby Sparks, a character brought to life by a character she created. How meta.

Zoe Kazan pulls double duty as screenwriter and leading lady of Ruby Sparks. Her debut screenplay is a clever, often dark, romantic fantasy about the power of love and self-identity. Calvin is nothing without Ruby, but Calvin doesn’t have enough of his own identity separated from work to know what to do with Ruby. The wild and enthusiastic woman he creates develops free will because she herself acts as an excuse for writer’s block. She reaches self-actualization, but Calvin doesn’t want independence; he wants Ruby.

It takes a special kind of director to not make a story about a man creating and eventually controlling a woman turn into a misogynistic nightmare. Good thing we have Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the co-directors of Little Miss Sunshine, to guide us through a dark and silly world. Dayton and Faris do not judge Calvin, his macho brother Harry who encourages him to play with Ruby, his free-spirited mother and step-father, or even Ruby for what they choose in this world. They merely guide us through a fantastic tale and leave the rest to us.

Ruby Sparks earns its fantasy conceit by establishing a believable universe. Paul Dano finds this core truth to Calvin, who could easily play as a Woody Allen caricature. This is a young man who achieved the pinnacle of success most writers spend a lifetime striving for on his first outing. He earned his independence and reputation by chance, not by hard work and determination. Now he’s drifting through life with no goal and no routine to fall back on.

rubysparkscalvin Ruby Sparks Review (Film, 2012)

Calvin is easily overwhelmed

The film wisely makes a few strong references to the life and career of J.D. Salinger, from literal name-dropping to Calvin’s indifference toward answering questions about his seminal work. Instead of a whiny prodigy, we have a clear picture of a young artist afraid of not living up to himself. It doesn’t seem like such a bad fate to have one hit book, but we’re not the ones living with the reality that the next thing we put out will be called a failure because it’s not as good as the first thing we ever did.

Ruby Sparks does have a very dark undertone that erupts in the climax. That is one of the most awkward and uncomfortable scenes I’ve seen in years. The parallels to the reveal of the talent in Little Miss Sunshine are there because of the directors. Dayton and Faris try to play it the same way. The problem is that this stark turn into very different material is tragic. The approach leaves you waiting for a punchline that never comes. A sense of tension builds not from the editing or the direction, but the sense of dread built by the premise of the film itself. Kazan and Dano give masterful performances in a scene that feels completely out of place in this film.

That climax is a big sticking point in the overall film. There is such a gentle and logical arc to the story that this sudden shift at the apex is unwelcome. Ruby Sparks earns a dark twist because it’s been brewing the whole time. It just deserved far better execution than static cuts between two characters and moody scoring.

Rating: 8/10

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Anna Karenina Review (Film, 2012)

Anna Karenina is a challenging work. The novel, all 864 pages of it, is full of characters and dramatic circumstances that can seem unnatural or even unbelievable in modern time. The rigid social structures are the core of the work and Tolstoy uses a large cross-section of Russian society to criticize hypocrisy without outright condemning the culture it creates. It is a work of Realism with a capital “R,” obsessed with the accurate reflection of everyday life and exploring each relevant thread as far as possible.

annakarenina Anna Karenina Review (Film, 2012)

Director Joe Wright’s film adaptation with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard uses an ingenious device to open up a very dense text trapped in its own time. Anna Karenina is a play opening up on the big screen. The streets are the catwalks above the stage. The parties are decorated in plywood flats and every action is constructed around a moment of theatricality designed to reach the back of the auditorium. As the focus in the story shifts from Moscow and St. Petersburg society to the infidelity of Anna herself, the film becomes a play within the play, sprawling outside the proscenium arch into the unending judgment of Anna wherever she goes.

annakareninatheatrical Anna Karenina Review (Film, 2012)Honestly, the biggest problem with this adaptation of Anna Karenina is that the sets aren’t artificial enough. You can’t go from plywood cutouts, unpainted on the back, to lush landscapes rolling into the far distance. When you choose a conceit like a play on film to visually break up the levels of society, you need to commit or dump it. You can’t have fake trees and a painted flat in one scene and an actual forest in the next without pulling the film apart.

This is a small complaint in a very smart and stylish adaptation of Anna Karenina. The story is reduced to focus on five characters. Anna is married to Karenin, a high ranking political official who respects his wife enough to not judge her without evidence of her indiscretions. Anna travels from St. Petersburg to Moscow to help her brother. Her brother invites her to his daughter Princess Kitty’s ball where Count Vronsky is expected to propose to her. Kitty already turned down Levin, a wealthy farmer’s son, in anticipation of the announcement. Count Vronksy, however, falls in love with Anna and pursues her until she bends to his will.

The other major plot threads are referenced throughout the film. They’re just not the focus. Tom Stoppard wisely picks two complimentary scenarios–Anna’s love triangle and Levin’s pursuit of Kitty–that illuminate all the rich subtext of Anna Karenina.

annakareninaaudience Anna Karenina Review (Film, 2012)The acting is as strong as it can be in this kind of film. There are actions taken that even Keira Knightley and Jude Law can’t force into a believable response because Tolstoy himself did not make them believable. These are awkward moments designed solely to push the story in new directions and the cast makes them as believable as possible. You can only push soap opera histrionics so far before alienating the audience. The entire ensemble finds the truth of this adaptation and makes you care deeply for their plight.

The real star of Anna Karenina is the lush design. The theaters are filled with just the right mix of whimsy and accuracy. The footlights are lanterns but every single detail on the proscenium is slathered in gold. The costumes and makeup design take on a similar practical extravagance. Women did wear veils to go out, but they weren’t necessarily wearing veils that reflected their inner psychological state.

It’s extravagance used to force comprehension on the audience. The design of the film is the equivalent of the airport tarmac employees waving neon cones to guide in the plane. If you miss those story and character signals, you’re willfully choosing to ignore them.

Anna Karenina moves as fast as it can and fills the screen with such wonder that a very slow story becomes far more engaging than it has any right to be. If the theatrical conceit had been pushed just a bit further, it would be a masterpiece.

Rating: 7/10

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Salmon Fishing in The Yemen Review (2012, Film)

There’s nothing wrong with a good romance on film. There’s nothing wrong with a fluffy story or kooky fantasy, either. These elements only become problematic when they’re not treated in a consistent and believable way.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen could be the odd and endearing story of a British bureaucrat forced to take on the seemingly impossible task of transporting thousands of cold water salmon to the Republic of Yemen for sport. Unfortunately, it’s also a slapdash love triangle between a Shiekh’s British representative, a soldier called into active duty in Afghanistan, and a happily married bureaucrat. It’s also a comedy about public relations in politics, a satire of bureaucracy in general, and an inspirational story about learning to accept fate.

salmonfishing1 Salmon Fishing in The Yemen Review (2012, Film)

If screenwriter Simon Beaufoy had focused on the actual driving task of Paul Torday’s novel, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen could have been a great film. Director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) is quite skilled at bringing out the romantic nature of odd and endearing stories. He does not need ham-fisted character shifts, blatant melodrama, and 2D almost magical figures to get that vision across. The screenplay is so unfocused and inconsistent that it’s a miracle the film is as watchable as it is.

The cast, though perfectly capable of playing these roles, cannot escape the physics-defying fluidity of the characters. Ewan McGregor as Dr. Alfred Jones, the bureaucrat, can play an uptight work-obsessed know it all and he can play an idealistic fantasy seeker. Emily Blunt can play a sharp and shrewd businesswoman and a fawning victim of love with ease. Kristin Scott Thomas does not struggle to play the blunt executive or the charming wit.

salmonfishing2 Salmon Fishing in The Yemen Review (2012, Film)

All three could even combine their character trait pairs into one cohesive vision. With this screenplay, they’re not even given the opportunity. One minute they’re column A; the next, Column B; then back to A; then back to B; on and on until the movie ends in one or the other molds. It’s maddening. There’s no reason to believe that this cast couldn’t have found the truth in this story with a more cohesive screenplay. Instead, they’re stuck creating really beautiful and engaging moments that don’t add up to a single narrative arc between them.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a beautiful film to watch. Everything from the costumes to the sound design is executed to perfection. Are there some moments that take the salmon spawning metaphor a bit too far? Perhaps, but that minor self-indulgence is only used at key moments in the film. Too bad those key moments only act as literal pivots in character or plot rather than a logical extension of an overriding vision.

There are far worse films than Salmon Fishing in the Yemen that distract themselves with cliched romance and poorly defined characters. Somehow, this cast and crew get so much right in their scene by scene execution that a rather messy structure swings back into watchable and endearing.

Rating: 6/10

Thoughts? I wanted to see this in theaters but never got the chance. I’m not exactly crushed by that loss anymore. If they axed the romance between McGregor and Blunt, it would have been a fine inspiring story.

Film Review: Beginners (2011)

Beginners is a sweet tale of learning to pursue what makes you happy in life. Oliver Fields is our narrator, jumping through time over the past year to tell us the story of his dying father’s last months on Earth. Hal Fields comes out of the closet late in life and finds the man of his dreams. While we learn the story of Hal’s first true romance, we experience Oliver trying as hard as he can to overcome his childhood instinct that no relationship could ever be based in love and happiness. He meets a beautiful woman named Anna, with the help of his late father’s dog Cosmo, and tries to build a worthwhile relationship.

Beginners is not so much about the plot as it is about the psychology of the characters. The principle cast–Cosmo aside–has never allowed happiness to be an option in their lives. Oliver commits himself entirely to his work in the face of grief. Hal convinces himself that he can cure his homosexuality by being a good husband and father. Anna is constantly escaping her life in France by hopping from hotel to hotel all over the world. It is only when they open themselves up to chance that they finally start to explore the possibility of true happiness.

Writer/director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) crafts a tight screenplay using a loose narrative structure. Though the film jumps in time, the beats of the narrative and character development are placed with precision for the benefit of this film. It’s not a traditional structure; it’s the structure that works best for Beginners. It takes a strong writer to build a screenplay that works without the go-to three act structure and Mills does it with style.

There are recurring devices that help shape the narrative. Oliver will give a historical voice-over to a series of images. “This is the president, this is what a man looks like, this is where a gay man could have sex, this is what sadness looks like,” all said in the context of the year being discussed. It flows naturally because Oliver is a graphic designer. His studio is filled with images on inspiration boards. Another device is his constant sketching of representations of his emotional state under the guise of work. The device turns into a subplot connected to how he’s functioning at work in relationship to his growth as a person.

Perhaps the most effective device is Cosmo. Cosmo is a Jack Russell Terrier. Oliver states in one of the first scenes the purpose Cosmo will serve in the film. Essentially, Cosmo acts as a criticism of the cute dog distraction in sitcoms and films by showing multiple ways a dog can be used to advance a narrative. The most blatant is Cosmo’s speech, presented in subtitles on the screen. Sometimes it’s used as a joke. Other times, Cosmo’s speech is a reflection of Oliver’s inner thought process.

beginnersblog Film Review: Beginners (2011)

The other uses of Cosmo are more impressive. Cosmo has an actual personality beyond “cute puppy.” He’s grieving the loss of his late friend Hal and has severe separation anxiety if he’s not with someone who loved Hal. It is only because Cosmo has to come to a costume party that Oliver meets Anna.

Cosmo becomes an omnipresent extension of Hal’s advice to Oliver throughout the film. If a dying man can come to terms with finding someone who makes him happy, why can’t his thirty-something son do the same? Cosmo is constantly nipping at his heels and pushing Oliver into strange new territory. The unspoken influence of the dog replaces the traditional need for a best friend or relative offering advice at every juncture. It flows organically because people don’t always have another person to guide them in life. Cosmo is Oliver, his memories, and his father wrapped up into a furry little ball that may or may not develop the ability to communicate directly with the people who love him.

It doesn’t hurt that Arthur (Cosmo) and his trainer Matilda de Cagney do amazing work with tricks, sight-lines, and general demeanor on set. Also, Arthur is an adorable little dog that the cast clearly grew fond of. That always helps. When in doubt, close-up on the adorable wire-haired terrier.

Ewan McGregor (Oliver), Melanie Laurent (Anna), and Christopher Plummer (Hal) do great work in this film. Mike Mills gave them a screenplay filled with richly developed characters and they went to town with them. Plummer’s character is the flashiest (and easiest awards magnet) and he really sells the progression, but McGregor and Laurent are at the same level. It’s one of those situations where if the main love interest wasn’t believable, the film would completely fall apart. You wouldn’t notice the actors playing Oliver and Anna unless they were doing horrible work onscreen. Their chemistry is perfect.

Beginners might stray a bit too quirky for more traditional romantic drama fan. However, for those willing to embrace a slightly skewed universe where dogs can communicate directly and history is framed by rapid fire photographs, Beginners is a beautifully realized exploration of what it means to be happy.

Rating: 8/10

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Film Review: My Week With Marilyn (2011)

My Week with Marilyn is a very clever film. It masquerades as a biopic of Marilyn Monroe and a simple coming of age romance. The depth and joy of the film comes in the quiet commentary on the backroom manipulation that happens every day in the entertainment industry.

Colin Clark is convinced he wants to work in the movies. Not as an actor, but as a production person. Through perseverance and the fortune of having wealthy well-connected parents, he lands a job as the third assistant director on a Sir Laurence Olivier film. Olivier has agreed, against his better judgment, to cast Marilyn Monroe as his leading lady. Soon it becomes Colin’s job to keep Miss Monroe happy, and Sir Olivier happy, and Marilyn’s people happy, and the producers happy.

The cast of this film is extraordinary. There is not one actor misfit for their role. From the not as innocent as he seems eagerness of Eddie Redmayne as Colin to Michelle Williams deeply bodied interpretation of Marilyn Monroe, the film is a feast for fans of great acting. Even performers with small roles, like Judi Dench and Emma Watson, are able to take some of the driest scenes and make them sparkle.

The true star of this film is Adrian Hodges’ screenplay.

Film Review: Like Crazy (2011)

Anna is a British student studying creative writing in America. She falls in love with American student Jacob, a furniture design major. It’s love at first sight. The only catch–a huge one–is the strict immigration and travel visa issues that control international travel into the United States post-9/11.

Without the immigration issue, Like Crazy would be a competently made and well-performed romance film. With it, Like Crazy finds an honest angle on an old formula that only begins to fail when cliches of the romance film take over in the last thirty minutes. Is a unique angle alone enough to overcome the pitfalls of a genre that even in non-comedic forms plays like a Mad Libs version of the same story over and over again? Not when the writer/director feels compelled to throw all of those fill-in-the-blank aspects at the tail end of the film.

There are three great strengths to Like Crazy: the score, the editing, and the performances.

Film Review: Jane Eyre (2011)

Imagine your most confusing dream. You think you’re awake but you can never be sure of what you’re seeing because it’s just slightly off from what you’d expect. By the time you realize the truth of your situation, your dream has transformed into a horrific nightmare.

Director Cary Fukunaga’s version of Charlotte Bronte’s classic Gothic novel Jane Eyre is best described as dream-like. A gray haze hangs over even the brightest scenes, casting poor Jane’s world in a constant state of gloom. If the haze disappears, something even worse is coming around the corner. The visual choice is perfect to set the tone of unease and distrust that permeates Bronte’s work.

Screenwriter Moira Buffini tackles the weighty tome with style and grace. The difficulty in adapting Jane Eyre is the sheer size and scope of the novel. Characters with one line in the beginning of the novel wind up being the key to a subplot that wraps up two hundred pages later. Buffini’s strategy of setting the majority of the film as a flashback at St. John River’s estate after Jane flees Rochester’s mansion is perfect. This lets the story be told in an unobtrusive way. It doesn’t matter that large sections of the novel are cut out for the film because the film sells itself as Jane’s memory of what happened while she worked for Rochester.

Film Review: But I’m A Cheerleader (1999)

Teen sex comedies are nothing new at this point. Regardless of quality, some of these films, like American Pie or Porkies, have attained a memorable position in the pop culture lexicon. It could be because of a particular outrageous scene, memorable line, or just plain fascination with the content.

But sometimes, when a film takes a predictable formula and finds something new to say through it, it goes ignored. But I’m A Cheerleader is one of these films. Megan, a high school cheerleader, faces an intervention from her family and friends: they think she’s a lesbian. She doesn’t agree, but her parents send her off to a sexual redirection school to literally set her straight. The program has the exact opposite effect on Megan, opening her up to the realization that she is a lesbian and leading to her personal, emotional, and sexual awakening.

Film Review: I Am Love (2010)

I Am Love is a curious film. It is a melodrama that uses little dialog. It is a character study that targets three different characters in a family at the same time. It is a beautifully acted film that values artistic design and score over a clear portrayal of any character. I Am Love is less a film than a portrait of a family in motion. You get what you want to get out of the film and nothing more.

Tilda Swinton stars as Emma Rechi, a woman who was whisked away from her native Russia twenty years ago to marry an Italian business man (Pippo Delbono’s Tancredi Rechi). She has three grown children: daughter Betta (Alba Rohrwacher), sons Gianluca (Mattia Zaccaro) and Edoardo, Jr. (Flavio Parenti). Betta is going off to art school in London and Gianluca and Edoardo are joining the family textile business; Edoardo has been named co-owner of the company with his father Tancredi.