52 posts categorized "Romantic Drama"

March 22, 2017


Punch Drunk LovePaul Thomas Anderson has done the impossible; he has written a romantic leading role for Adam Sandler that functions well on a dramatic level. Sandler’s on-the-spectrum character Barry Egan is a bundle of social anxiety thanks to a long history of abusive treatment by his seven sisters. He has a furious temper thanks to his sisters’ relentless bullying about a childhood episode wherein he broke a plate glass door with a hammer in response to their repeatedly calling him “gayboy.”

Note Anderson’s reference to Lina Wertmuller’s film “Seven Beauties” (1975), which follows the wartime adventures of Pasqualino (Giancarlo Gianini), a henpecked Italian dandy who murders one of his sister’s lover. Audiences can have a field day picking out Anderson’s subtle nods to films by other directors (“Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday,” “The Bandwagon,” and “The Graduate” for example), as well as to his own (“Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia”).


“Punch Drunk Love” is a squirmy love story about a guy with a good heart in need of romantic rescue. Anderson’s inspired casting of Emily Watson as Sandler’s savior works like a charm for a minimalist character study with a dash of magical realism. It may only be a minor chamber piece, but “Punch Drunk Love” sticks with you.  

Rated R. 95 mins. (B) (Three Stars — out of five / no halves) 

We're drinking BANISH THE DARK for our discussion of Paul Thomas Anderson's PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE with special guest co-host Kenji Mason.

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September 03, 2016


The-Light-Between-OceansNicholas Sparks has some new competition in the meepy melodrama realm. Newcomer M.L. Stedman sees his 2012 debut novel adapted by the once promising director Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”) in a lackluster soap opera of a movie that comes complete with a terribly miscast Alicia Vikander. The current it-girl who impressed in last year’s “Ex Machina,” gets hung out to dry in her second ill-fated outing attempt at period drama. Vikander may have pulled the wool over some people’s eyes with her marginal performance in “The Danish Girl,” opposite the versatile Eddie Redmayne, but her lacking ability to inhabit character from past epochs torpedoes this film as much as its insipid source material of tear-stained pap.

I won’t spoil the plot, but the arrival of an infant to a couple isolated on a remote lighthouse, sets off an emotionally charged chain of events that are predictable as they are pedestrian.

Light Btwn Oceans

The capable if overrated Michael Fassbinder carries the film as Tom Sherbourne, a World War I veteran (read, scarce survivor) who takes on a position as a lighthouse keeper on the island of Janus. Tom falls for the love-at-first-sight charms of Isabel (Vikander), and soon marries the woman who will ruin his life.

Complete with an obnoxiously heavy-handed musical score (by Alexandre Desplat), “The Light Between Oceans” gets a late start that shifts into an excruciating audience experience for anyone under 80. That said, this is not the movie to list as the last thing you see before passing on to the great beyond.

Long gone are the days when James Ivory made meaningful period dramas that audiences could sink their teeth into. See “A Room With a View” (1985), “Howards End” (1992), and “Jefferson in Paris” (1995), just to name a few. Make the most of your movie-watching time; catch “Howards End” during its current revival run, and forget about “The Light Between Oceans.” There isn’t any.

Rated PG-13 132 mins. (C-) (One star — out of five / no halves)    

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June 09, 2016


The-Last-FaceCannes, France — At the Friday morning Cannes press screening of "The Last Face" it was clear from a cheesy opening scroll, about the profoundness of “love between a man and a woman,” that the next 131 minutes would be spent in filmic embarrassment if not utter hell. “The Last Face” is a painful movie, on so many levels, to watch. Naturally, there is voice-over narration to bring down heavy-handed messages of wartime experience vis-a-vis as a burden to the Western world, i.e. rich white people. I wish I’d used my time to see a different film at Cannes.

The oh-so reckless romance that occurs between relief-aid doctors Wren Petersen (a rich girl daughter of political influence played by Charlize Theron), and Javier Bardem’s super-suave doctor Miguel Leon, does so against a fiercely violent area in Liberia where human slaughter is de rigueur.

Crammed with incredibly gory sequences of bodies (dead and alive) mutilated and cut open by war, “The Last Face” is an exploitation movie with a romantic infection. It’s a feel-good-about-feeling-bad movie. Could there be anything worse? I suppose a snuff film would be worse.

The trite sentimentalized theme that comes through Penn’s drawn out overly-cinematic ordeal is that regardless of how much the fearless white man or woman helps the pathetic black man, it still isn’t a drop in the bucket toward reducing the violence because Liberians be crazy violent by nature.

By centering the story on a love triangle between saintly-not-saintly white martyrs (Adele Exarchopoulos has a recurring cameo as the third wheel), Penn paints himself into a corner. This is a movie that was doomed before it ever went into production.

Last Face

Near the end of the story, Wren gives an ostensibly rousing (more like vomit-inducing) speech at a fancy fundraising dinner for NATO. She emphasizes that even more than the money her investor audience gives, that it is their “passion” that is supremely important. If that doesn’t sound like a crock of bullshit, I don’t know what does.

The biggest problem with the character aspects of the film is that we don’t care about these narcissistic people because we shouldn’t. If ever there was a movie that could make you dislike relief-aid doctors, “The Last Face” is it.

Oh, and what an awful title for a movie.

Rated R. 132 mins. (D-) (Zero stars — out of five / no halves)

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May 28, 2015


Carol An undeniable highlight of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Todd Haynes’s masterful adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel “The Price of Salt,” is an opposite-sex companion piece to Haynes’s self-penned ‘50s era homosexual drama “Far From Heaven.” Think of “Carol” as “Farther From Heaven.” Where his former film was a Douglas Sirk-inspired time capsule of autumnal Connecticut, “Carol” asserts wintery Manhattan thematic motifs through the clothing, manners, and simmering desires of its would-be lesbian lovers. The time frame is Christmas through New Year's 1952-53.

Phyllis Nagy’s economical script adaptation is flawless under Haynes’s confident control. The movie breathes with furtive yet absolute passion. Filmed on Super 16, Haynes’s usual cinematographer Ed Lachman captures the film’s brilliantly executed retro look.

Cate Blanchett’s Carol Aird is in the midst of a divorce, for which her wealthy but small-minded husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) seeks sole custody of their young daughter Riley. While Christmas shopping, Carol meets, and passively stalks, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), a department store sales clerk with a twinkle in her eye for Carol. Blanchett and Mara deliver spellbinding performances teeming with subtle interplay and erotic tension. Mara’s channeling of Audrey Hepburn provides the movie with a kick of stylish carefree charm, and young lust.


Added to the film’s powerful sense of erotic suspense is Carol’s predatory nature that draws into question her tactics in achieving her romantic goals. Blanchett’s character is both antagonist and protagonist. Her layers of carnal intention are at direct odds with America’s puritanical codes of behavior. Despite American society's raging denunciation of gay relations as illicit and harmful, neither Carol nor Therese attempt to hide their mutual attraction. They are outsiders on a mission. When hubby Harge comes home to discover the would-be lovers together in the family living room of his fancy mansion, a predictably dramatic scene plays out.

The picture's sub-theme, regarding the era’s socially limited mindset of its white male population, is embodied in Therese’s boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy). Richard speaks Highsmith’s theme lines about society’s disapproval of homosexuality. The fact that Richard is intent on marrying Therese without having slept with her, speaks to differences in the characters’ ideals and motivations.

Here is a film that doesn’t need any awards to stake its worthiness. That said, awards of some variety will surely follow.


Rated R. 118 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)


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September 01, 2013


Leaving Las Vegas“Leaving Las Vegas” (1995) is a remarkably potent romantic drama that permanently altered the careers of many of the people involved in its creation. The author of the book upon which it was based, John O’Brien, intended his novel — about a recently divorced Hollywood movie exec who moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death — as an extended suicide note. Talk about method acting: O’Brien killed himself shortly after production on the film began.

Director Mike Figgis received an Academy Award nomination for his impressive efforts. Nevertheless, for all the big expectations, Figgis was never able to make good on the promise that “Leaving Las Vegas” seemed to forecast.

Perhaps the film’s most obvious casualty was Nicolas Cage, whose fearless performance as the suicidal alcoholic Ben Sanderson won him a best actor Oscar. After pouring so much of himself into creating a dead-end antagonist with a twinkle of romantic humanity left in him, Cage made an abrupt turn toward Hollywood blockbuster fare with “The Rock” (1996) and never looked back. Cage appears to have forever abandoned such intricate characters in favor of a readymade movie-star approach to every role he played since.  


Elizabeth Shue received a much deserved Oscar nomination for her confident portrayal of a prostitute named Sera who falls in love with Ben in spite of, or because of, his self-destructive personality. She sees something in Ben that even he doesn’t recognize. The film is interspersed with illuminating sequences of Sera divulging candid aspects of her personal experiences to an unseen therapist. Shue’s authoritative expression of her character’s contrasting vulnerability and toughness takes your breath away. Like Cage, her commitment to her role is absolute.

Filmed on super 16mm film in order to allow the underfinanced Figgis to shoot fast and cheap — often shooting scenes in single takes to circumvent filming permits — “Leaving Las Vegas” has the greasy look of a documentary that mirrors Ben’s spiraling binge. Ben’s glassy bloodshot eyes penetrate the screen with a Valhalla shout at society of his hopelessness. As much as Ben appreciates the love and affection that Sera thanklessly bestows on him, his prerequisite for their relationship is that she not attempt to impede his drinking in any way. When Sera gives him a flask as a gift, Ben knows he’s with the “right girl.”

Leaving Las Vegas

Mike Figgis never misleads the audience about where the story is headed. We know that Ben will succeed in his stated mission to kill himself via hundreds of bottles of various kinds of booze. He knows what he wants, and nothing will stop him from attaining it. After Sera invites him to leave his fleabag hotel — appropriately named "The Hole You’re In" — to come live with her, Ben leaves his clothes behind so he can fill his suitcase with bottles of liquor. The surprising redemptive effect that Figgis achieves at the film’s culmination arrives with a bittersweet act of physical kindness that only Sera can provide. 

Rated R. 111 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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May 23, 2013

Before Midnight

Before MidnightGen X Grows Up
Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke Put a Cherry on the Cake

For better or for worse — mostly better — Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke may best be remembered for their romantically euphoric trilogy in collaboration with wunderkind Generation X auteur Richard Linklater. Each of Linklater's “Before” films — about a developing romance between a talkative American writer and a hyper-articulate Frenchwoman — has improved on its predecessor — and that's saying something. Fireworks of authentic stream-of-consciousness dialogue, spikes of emotion, and the madness of love reach a crescendo of palpable joie de vivre in “Before Midnight.” Audiences can't help but admire this bold expression of intellectually and erotically charged connection between two undeniably attracted souls.

The first collaboration “Before Sunrise” (1995) introduced romantically inclined couple Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) travelling on a train from Budapest to Vienna. Sparks of curiosity and lust ignited to the strains of Vivaldi, Straus, and Kate Bloom. “Before Sunset” (2004) found the lovers reuniting for a one-night-stand of sorts in Paris where Jesse — a successful author inspired by the events in the first film — reads from his latest book. Things got complicated.

Now, nearly two decades since they first met, the couple lives together in France with their twin daughters. The film begins at the end of a summer vacation in Greece where they have spent the past six weeks sharing the exotic home of a fellow author and his family. Jesse sees his son off at the airport, destined to return to Jesse’s ex-wife. [Celine can't stand the thought of the woman.] Hawke is a caring but awkward father who worries that his 12-year-old boy didn’t have enough fun during their time spent bonding together in the Mediterranean paradise. The naturalistic scene sets the film’s neo-realistic tone. We are hooked.

A real-time conversation plays out between Jesse and Celine as they drive back to their host’s house while the girls sleep in the back seat. They discuss the long-term effect on the girls of their decision to pass up a promised sightseeing stop at a natural landmark. The seemingly impromptu conversation hits a staggering number of relationship reference points that draw the audience inside their casually intimate style of communicating. No topic is off limits. Politics, sex, religion, literature, and economic realities all come percolating to the surface. It's clear that Linklater and his two actors spent much time together crafting and polishing the personalized script. The dialogue shimmers.

A farewell dinner with their hosts gives way to a gifted night at a resort hotel that promises the couple some welcome alone time. However, Celine’s possible bipolar disorder crashes the party late in the game, causing Jesse to reach deep into his pocket of tricks to bring Celine around to a romantic reality built as much on fantasy as on a unifying method for achieving harmony in the relationship. “Before Midnight” feels like two intimate weeks spent with Jesse and Celine, compressed inside a 108-minute movie. A higher compliment, I cannot imagine. Bravo.

Rated R. 108 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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December 10, 2012


Not Fade Away“Not Fade Away” is a freeform drama about an old fashioned subject — the romantic rite to passage that comes from playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band. It’s a movie that has “labor of love” plastered all over it. Writer-director David Chase (creator of “The Sopranos”) is clearly living out his childhood dream of being a young successful rock drummer.

Part social essay and part nostalgic character study, the movie rambles by in episodic time jumping skips about Douglas (played for keeps by John Magaro), a Bob Dylan-lookalike who plays drums in ‘60s-era New Jersey. Social change is all around. The production design team stays true to the look and feel of the period. Great mood. You feel like you've gone back in time. The music of Van Morrison, Robert Johnson, James Brown, and the Kinks feature prominently. Choice blues tunes from several other Left Bank-favorites impart a sophisticated level of musical taste to the organically motivated narrative.

True to his rebellious ‘60s ethos, lefty Douglas doesn’t get along with his working-class dad Pat (James Gandolfini). Douglas falls in with a covers band playing Stones’ songs at parties in their suburban area. A chance to play front man brings out Douglas's rock persona ego in full swagger. Douglas proves the power of his stage charm when he takes up with a high-school hottie named Grace (Bella Heathcote). Heartbreak, reversals, and squandered opportunities come with the territory.

“Not Fade Away” is a detail-oriented movie. The filmmakers include eccentric bits of character behavior that jives with the social-consciousness zeitgeist of the period.

As its title hints at, “Not Fade Away” is about the perpetuation of communally created rock ‘n’ roll music. It’s a coming-of-age movie with its heart in the right place. Besides, it's almost impossible to fault a movie that uses the Sex Pistols’ version of Jonathan Richman's "Road Runner" in the finale scene.

Rated R. 86 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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November 07, 2012

Hyde Park on Hudson — THE NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2012

Hyde Park on HudsonLimits of Respect
Massaging FDR Pays Modest Dividends

If only we could see Bill Murray’s FDR hanging out with Daniel Day Lewis’s Lincoln, then there might be…well, another mediocre life-slice movie about dead presidents. Like Day Lewis, Murray builds his character from the ground up, making his mortal incarnation of a historical political figure thoroughly convincing. Playing FDR’s romantically attracted sixth cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, Laura Linney knows just how to harmonize with Murray’s performance, undercutting it when the scene demands. From an acting standpoint, “Hyde Park on Hudson” and “Lincoln” each provide textbook examples of incredibly polished dramatic work from some of the finest actors around. Still, if Steven Spielberg’s piece of revisionist history presents a brief essay, “Hyde Park on Hudson” is but a tastefully composed snapshot.

Where “Hyde Park on Hudson” falls short is in the script department. Richard Nelson’s screenplay version of his own stage play doesn’t know where or how to expand to fit the cinema screen. The impetus for the story comes from Daisy’s letters and diaries retrieved after her death. Nelson doesn’t make much of a splash with his debut feature script. The underinflated narrative is confined to a few days, when King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Williams) visit FDR at his upstate New York compound, which he shares with his domineering mother Sara Ann (Elizabeth Wilson) and emotionally remote wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams). Responsive movie audiences will remember King “Bertie” from Colin Firth’s characterization in Tom Hooper’s 2010 film “The King’s Speech.” However on-the-nose in might have been, it would have been a welcome touch had Firth reprised the role here since West’s portrayal of the stuttering George goes all but undetected.

Roosevelt’s crippled legs hardly prevent him from playboy behavior with the likes of Daisy, whose parked-car handjob crystalizes the romantic nature of couple’s tenuous relationship. Sadly, one rubout doesn’t provide enough of a hook to hang a movie on.

As with the miscalculated emotional emphasis of “Hitchcock,” the script places too many narrative eggs in a basket of repressed jealousy. Daisy is hardly able to act on her mild mistreatment by a powerful world leader with cavalier concern for her emotional wellbeing.

Director Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”) knows how to handle milieu and atmosphere. Every composition of period perfection is a sumptuous delight to the eye. You’d never guess that you were looking at an English countryside as opposed to the film’s New York State setting. When FDR takes Daisy on a pastoral escape in his big convertible, mythology and romance connect.

Some of the film’s humor borders on slapstick situational comedy that might work on the stage, but arrives at odds to the film’s remote tone. A running gag about British royalty eating hot dogs for lunch at Walden falls pancake-flat. “Hyde Park on Hudson” feels like two-thirds of a movie. There aren’t enough depths of subplot support to allow Bill Murray’s hemmed-in character to take hold. The movie is great to look at, but the story leaves you wanting so much more.

Rated R. 95 mins. (C+) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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October 22, 2012

The Loneliest Planet

The Loneliest PlanetToo much a student of the Gus Van Sant school of minimalist filmmaking — think “Gerry” — Julia Loktev manages this travelogue romantic drama, that is overwrought yet undercooked. Gael Garcia Bernal fans the flames of his enduring heartthrob status as Alex, a globetrotting fiancé of Hani Furstenberg’s Nica. During the summer before their planned November marriage, the couple goes on a backpacking tour of the Caucasus with a local hired guide named Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze). Lush scenery envelops the trio as they trek endlessly without much commentary about their remote surroundings. With the blush of mutual passion still hot in their loins Nica and Alex trade language lessons, songs, and extended periods of silence. A meet-up with an armed native and his two belligerent sons causes Alex to make an involuntary faux pas that affects the couple’s relationship. The filmmaker takes a cheap way out by not having her characters discuss the incident as normal people would — much less question their unreliable guide about his failure to speak up on their behalf during the heated crisis. 

Bernal and Furstenberg share an onscreen chemistry that makes the movie watchable, but Julia Loktev’s future as a filmmaker is not as bright as his stars.

Not Rated. 113 mins. (D+) ( Stars - out of five/no halves)

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