11 posts categorized "Romantic Drama"

February 12, 2020

MODEL SHOP

Model_shopSomewhere between Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood,” and Andrew Slater’s essential Laurel Canyon music scene documentary “Echo In The Canyon,” sits Nouvelle Vague reject Jacques Demy’s time-capsule of the romanticized, and sexualized, Viet Nam War era of Los Angeles, circa 1968. “Model Shop” is a subtle anti-war film for the ages. L.A. might be sunny, but the filter of War turns the brightest colors gray. This is a movie you can dream into, even as nightmare glimpses of American sexual repression and capitalist culture of greed and war come and go.

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Hitchhiking, pot smoking, and a handsome lead throwing around a green-and-red 1952 MG convertible like a scattered rug, contribute to Demy’s uncanny study of shifting cultural moods that the city inspired before 1969 came crashing down on hippie culture like a mousetrap. Watergate finished the job a few years later.

Model-shop

Jacques Demy exhibits poetic affection for the sprawling beachside town where an oil rig sits only a few feet away from our rudderless protagonist George Matthews’s ramshackle bungalow that he shares with a shameless would-be actress Gloria (Alexandra Hay). Gloria wants to break up; George (Gary Lockwood) isn’t surprised and doesn’t care. Gloria wants to build a family, George wants to build a career, but doesn’t want to wait the 15 years it will take to develop a reputation that will have him designing gas stations. Then a draft notice arrives for George.

Nouvelle vague-inspired Leos Carax’s 1984 “Boy Meets Girl” shares “Model Shop’s” sense of existential dread for young male characters whose pending military duty colors their emotional interactions with the women they fall in love in short circumstances. Forget “meet-cute,” this is meet-horny-and-depressed, in that order. 

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The “Model shops” of the film’s title offer men an opportunity to pay to take Polaroid pictures of women in, or out, of their negligées in the privacy of a gaudy-colored room in a shady district of the Sunset Strip. Want to know more? I know you do.

George gets along much better with his male friends than he does with the fairer sex. In one of the film’s most inspired scenes, George visits the Laurel Canyon home of a musician pal. The two friends go into a home studio where George’s friend plays the music for a song he’s writing on a piano while his wife takes care of their baby elsewhere in the house. George silently grooves while sitting peacefully listening to his friend’s work-in-progress. However, when comes to communicating with women, George isn’t socialized nearly as well.

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When George sees a lovely woman in white (Anouk Aimée as Lola), he’s inspired to follow her. Discovering that Lola works at a model shop doesn’t dissuade him. Commodification of sexuality can’t be all bad, can it? George takes the bait and takes photos of her in a frilly nothing gown. Once home with the erotic photos and a joint in his hand in bed, George’s live-in girlfriend interrupts his would-be masturbation session. George can’t get a break but on this day of all days, he really needs one. Demy makes George’s inevitable sexual release a suspense element that increases in tension as the picture goes along.

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Gary Lockwood (he played Dr. Frank Poole in “2001: A Space Odyssey”) carries the same world-weary vibe of Robert Forster’s news cameraman in character Haskell Wexler’s similarly timed drama “Medium Cool” (1969). The two men look enough alike to have been brothers. Like Brad Pitt’s stunt double Cliff Booth in “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood,” Gary Lockwood worked in Hollywood as a stunt man. And similar to Leonardo Di Caprio’s Rick Dalton character, Gary Lockwood was a would-be leading man relegated to doing supporting roles on television.

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When he made “Model Shop,” Jacques Demy lived in L.A. with his wife, the great French New Wave maverick Agnes Varda. Overlapping storylines from Demy’s previous movies enter into the narrative at key points. Demy allows his personal history with French filmmaking to weave into the story at hand. Social commentary arrives via LA’s west side locations and streets, such as Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards, that hold aromatic nostalgic importance for a pre-internet world when you didn’t have a cell phone crutch to rely on for information, human interaction, and social guidance. The war that rages in Viet Nam reverberates through L.A. like an invisible gas. America’s militarized corporate structure have put George in a maze full of dead-ends. At least he can appreciate the beauty and promise of Los Angeles for all of the good it will do him.   

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Rated PG. 97 mins. (B+) Three Stars

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August 29, 2017

84 CHARING CROSS ROAD

Colesmithey4.com“84 Charing Cross Road” is about bonds of friendship formed and maintained by a mutual love of literature or, more to the point, books. Anne Bancroft’s earthy portrayal of real-life playwright and script-reader Helene Hanff (pronounced hell-ane han-f) is so effortless and effervescent that it’s enough to turn a generation of young women into chain-smoking, gin-swigging writers, if not full-fledged admirers of beautifully bound editions by the likes of Jane Austin, George Orwell, Chaucer, or Plato.

Helene Hanff was famous for saying that she never read fiction because she could “never get interested in things that didn’t happen to people who never lived.”

Personally, I know exactly where Hanff was coming from, and I concur. So it is that the nature of this film, directed by David Jones, calmly emphasizes the immediate surroundings and social conditions of its characters from the late ‘40s to the late ‘60s. Love of poetry and the written word is intrinsic in the fabric of the narrative. Nothing is strained, even when characters break the forth wall after earning sufficient trust from its audience. We are glad to be spoken to directly. It’s a loving gesture that arrives as a reward.  

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Helene Hanff lives in a weathered brownstone apartment on 95th street off Central Park in Manhattan’s Carnegie Hill. She frequents an actual bookstore at 1313 Madison that is still in business at the time of this writing. Unable to locally acquire the specific titles that her ever-hungry literary appetite requires, she responds to an ad for Marks & Co., a London-based antiquarian booksellers overseen by Anthony Hopkins’s Frank P. Doel. What follows is a 20-year relationship of loving commerce elucidated by letters written back and forth across the pond.

Oh what a difference casting makes. There can be little doubt that the separate but resonate chemistry between Bancroft and Hopkins rings as a clarion bell of mesmerizing harmony. Through their constant correspondence we savor Hanff’s lean sense of nearly ribald humor as it rubs on the dry paint of Frank Doel’s heartfelt sense of honest propriety. It should be noted that Judi Dench’s restrained performance as Doel’s loyal but tightly-wound Irish wife Nora adds a layer of stoic resolve to the couple’s marriage.

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The primary action of the story revolves around Hanff’s written requests for specific books that she augments with gifts of food stuffs meant for the appreciative staff of Marks & Co., located at the address of the film’s title. Hanff always sends cash.  

So it is that the seemingly pedestrian story catches the viewer off guard when the cumulative emotional effect takes its inevitable toll in a tear-jerking sequence of satisfying catharsis. “84 Charing Cross Road” is a valuable film for all of the right reasons of theatrical balance and narrative truth. It is a movie that hits you like a live play. I can think of no higher compliment for the source material of soul-bearing experience.  

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Rated PG. 100 mins. (B+) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

January 27, 2014

LABOR DAY

Ivan Reitman’s Near-Movie is a Soap Opera Diasaster

Labor DayThere’s almost a movie — one with serious incest issues — hiding somewhere in writer/director Jason Reitman’s bleary attempted adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel. The story revolves around Frank (Josh Brolin), an ex-con who takes Adele, a depressed single mother, and her 13-year-old son Henry hostage after escaping via a second-story hospital window. Blood from Frank’s fresh appendectomy is still seeping through his T-shirt when he comes across mother-and-son shopping in a New Hampshire department store.

The director behind such milquetoast social-commentary excursions as “Thank You For Smoking” (about the tobacco industry) and “Up in the Air” (about corporate downsizing) goes straight for soap opera romance this time around. The film’s bubble-bath effect may possibly appeal to its target audience of middle-aged Caucasian housewives, but other collective stereotypes will likely not be so moved.

It’s the mid- '80s. Frank isn’t as menacing as his dire circumstances and bloody appearance make him seem, at least not after he gets Adele (Kate Winslet) and Henry inside their cozy home. He only briefly ties them up for appearances — in case the cops show up right away. Though under the hot threat of violent arrest, Frank is a calm and collected pushover looking for love. More importantly, Frank is looking to fulfill his smoldering patriarchal and maternal desires. He may be a tough guy, but Frank is also a regular homemaker. Never mind that he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing his wife and child many moons ago; that’s another story that gets handled in flashbacks, which include television actor Tom Lipinski playing a younger version of Frank. (Lipinski’s spitting image of a youthful Josh Brolin sends chills.)


Kate Winslet’s Adele is a dejected agoraphobe who can’t get her car into reverse without the help of her strangely detached son Henry (Gattlin Griffith). The story is told from Henry’s perspective as an unreliable protagonist who is just as likely to sabotage his mom’s newfound romance as he is in helping.

Since his father ran off with his secretary, Henry and his bipolar mom have entered into an uncomfortable relationship in which she has become a surrogate girlfriend. They practice dancing together. Adele puts a lot of stock in a man’s ability to dance. Henry has taken his mom on movie dates. The story teases at an underlying subtext of incest on several occasions — the most obvious occurs when Henry listens to his mother’s and Frank’s lovemaking sessions while wondering in voiceover narration about his own inability to appease his mother’s sensual desires. Freaky. A birds-and-bees lecture Adele gives Henry has her emphasizing the way sex “feels” over traditional concerns of emotional commitment, sexually transmitted diseases, or pregnancy. In the hands of competent staff, this would be worth exploring. As things stand, the filmmakers and actors seem oblivious to the bizarre subtext at hand.      

Things get especially peculiar during a suggestive cooking session in which Frank instructs Adele and Henry on how to make a peach pie. The three characters stick their six hands simultaneously into the goop, manipulating the peaches in a display of tactile sensuality that the website epicurious.com named the “World’s Sexiest Peach Pie.” Don’t ask.

During the three-day weekend, Frank goes into patriarchal overdrive, fixing the family car, squeaky doors, and teaching “Hank” to throw a baseball. Of course he’s also busy loving up Adele and warming her up to the idea of making a run for the Canadian border.

Henry manages to fit in a romantic dalliance with a know-it-all girl who tries to convince him that Adele and Frank will surely abandon him so they have sex without him around.

There are so many weird strains of tone-deaf subtext running through “Labor Day” that you have to accept the movie for what it is: a poorly written movie based on a poorly written novel. It might draw tears from the ladies-that-lunch crowd, but this movie rattles like a broken blender.

Rated PG-13. 111 mins. (D) (One Star - out of five/no halves)

 



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