59 posts categorized "Romantic Drama"

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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