11 posts categorized "Romantic Drama"

December 11, 2013

HER

HERWhere Spike Jonze once soared using magical realism — albeit written by someone else — as his guide (see “Being John Malkovich”) he now flounders with a self-penned technology driven story that shrivels before your eyes.

Set in the not-too-distant future, “Her” involves a long distance romance between Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a recently separated writer of personalized letters for every occasion, and Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a software-program love-interest of limited potential — think “Siri.” Samantha (or “OS1”) is billed as, “the world’s first intelligent operating system.” I suppose Jonze never heard of Siri.

The tone is a light comedy with a drop of tepid social commentary thrown in for good measure. The effect is one of intellectual and physical impotence. Imagine a flawed cross between Walter Mitty and “Lars and the Real Girl” and you get the gist.

Jonze transforms Los Angeles into a sanitized smog-free mecca WITH vaguely Asian aesthetics where minority cultures have been scrubbed away beneath a forest of shiny high-rise buildings. Dark-skinned people don’t exist. We may as well be watching events unfold on an alien planet that has mirrored our own through a whitesplaining mirror. The atmospheric self-consciousness extends to Theodore’s introverted character as a socially awkward geek who takes to engaging in a romantic relationship with a mechanized phone-sex “consciousness” like a teen hacker to rough code. "The Man Who Loved Women," this isn’t.
Regardless of how “normal” Joaquin Phoenix attempts to make his character, Theodore is an emotionally stunted man who is more pathetic than empathetic.

With Samantha as his constant companion, Theodore is happy — perhaps for the first time in his life. From the outside he might seem like guy who constantly talks to himself because, well, that’s what it seems is going on. Supposedly, Theodore is teaching Samantha how to be and feel more human. So, in effect, we are watching a guinea pig improving a beta program with a sultry voice — kudos to Scarlett Johansson for some excellent voiceover work.

All concept and style, “Her” floats around like a clinical bubble that pops. There isn’t any pay off— emotional or otherwise. The picture might be attractive if bland to look at, but “Her” doesn’t have the thematic development necessary to fulfill the viewer. Where a film like “Lars and the Real Girl” brought its painfully lonely protagonist to a place of emotional centeredness though the efforts of a community of concerned individuals, “Her” remains too aloof for any such realization. The movie doesn’t want to get its hands dirty.

Rated R. 120 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

 



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September 29, 2013

LE WEEK-END — NYFF 51

Le WeekEndAudiences familiar with screenwriter Hanif Kureishi’s work — reference “My Beautiful Laundrette” and “Sammy and Rosie Get Laid” — will want to seek out the author’s latest collaboration with director Roger Michell (“Venus”). They will not be disappointed. Revisiting their honeymoon in Paris 30 years later, an elderly married couple enjoys a romantic, bitey, and emotionally challenging experience that eventually lands them on equal footing. Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan play the sixty-something Nick and Meg Burrows with a full range of emotional and intellectual colors that express their struggles as British teachers whose careers have not panned out as they imagined.

The quaint hotel they booked isn’t up to Meg’s standards. Their tiny room is notably “beige.” Tight personal finances don’t prevent Meg from splurging. An expensive sightseeing taxi tour leads the couple to a five-star hotel where they run up an enormous bill while acting like teenagers when the mood strikes. Running out on an expensive restaurant tab presents a challenging adventure — especially for Meg, who is hell-bent to sew at least a few wild oats while basking in the glow of the City of Lights. Nick would settle for a little romp between the sheets. But Meg is not as amorously inspired.

Jeff Goldblum all but steals the movie as Morgan, an expat former classmate of Nick’s from their days at Cambridge. Morgan is everything Nick isn’t — notably a successful writer with a much younger wife. Goldblum’s hyper-intellectual character is so full of himself that you half-expect him to start swinging from lampposts. The poignant nature of Nick’s late-life-crisis comes to a boil during a party at Morgan’s well-appointed apartment over dinner. Nick delivers a devastating monologue that speaks some harsh truths for several generations regarding the 21st century atmosphere of ineffable bleakness. “Le Week-End” articulates a nostalgic sense of romantic aspiration without ever giving in to sentiment. Comedy and tragedy wear the same mask in the city that best represents romantic love. Just as with Paris, you’ll want to revisit “Le Week-End.”

Rated R. 93 mins. ( B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

 



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September 15, 2013

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR — NYFF 51

Bitwc.colesmithey.com“Blue is the Warmest Color” is one of the most stunning films I’ve ever seen. I realize that sounds like a readymade pull-quote, and it's fine with me if it gets used as such, but I don’t offer lavish praise cheaply. It would diminish this beautiful film to pigeonhole it to a modern standard-bearer for the LGBT movement (which it is); its tremendous depths of emotional intimacy demand more than that. Watching the three-hour love story unfold is a simultaneously transgressive and transcendent encounter in which the audience is compelled in no uncertain terms to fall head-over-heels in love with the film’s romantic heroine.

An epic coming-of-age romantic drama between two captivating forces of feminine nature, “Blue” is as intimate a representation of erotic and romantic love as has ever been committed to cinema. Graphic in its depiction of lesbian sex, it circumvents any accusations of pornographic intent by being hopelessly and sincerely sensual. If that sounds confusing, it should. What director Abdellatif Kechiche achieves is unprecedented.

Blueisthewarmestcolor

The camera worships everything about lead actress Adèle Exarchopoulos. It contemplates her persuasively wanton lips, which wait in a constant state of a half-open invitation to be kissed. Her upper lip points in an upward arc that resembles a temple of tenderness. Poets could write a thousand sonnets about the slight wrinkle that flirts at the right corner of her mouth when a certain mood strikes. Every tiny movement of Exarchopoulos’s oral orifice transmits an encyclopedia’s worth of primal and intellectual information. Director Abdellatif Kechiche understands the power of Exarchopoulos’s mesmerizing face, and the filmmaker takes ample advantage of her unique features in extreme close-ups that convey volumes of narrative subtext.

Using the actress’s real first name blurs the line between the comely Exarchopoulos and the exotically nubile character she plays. Adèle is a French 16-year-old high school junior exploring the boundaries of romance as informed by the male classmate who pursues her. Yet Emma, an older woman with blue-dyed hair Adèle passes in the street, fans her inner desires. A chance meeting during her first visit to a lesbian bar introduces Adèle to Emma in a meet-cut sequence full of overflowing curiosity and erotic ambition.

As part of a clique of meddlesome schoolgirls, Adèle is publically humiliated after her “friends” witness her leaving school with Emma (Léa Seydoux). Just when the story seems as though it will stay in one social stratum, it shifts without commentary.

Loosely adapted from Julie Maroh’s graphic novel “le bleu est une coleur chaude,” Kechiche and his co-writer Ghalia Lacroix create extended, seemingly real-time, sequences that allow the characters and story to develop in an organic fashion. That several of these protracted sequences involve beautifully explicit lovemaking sessions between Adèle and Emma adds incalculably to our empathy and understanding of the characters and the lustful nature of their relationship.

Blueisthewarmestcolor2

Social forces and personal insecurities are the antagonist. Early on, we see Adèle marching and shouting in an anti-austerity protest march. Later on, when she is a few years older Adèle participates in a LGBT parade. She has changed significantly. The audience is left to judge via their own individual perspective exactly how Adèle’s live-in relationship with Emma, and other internal and external factors, have influenced her.

“Blue is the Warmest Color” is a monumental cinematic achievement that must be experienced by anyone passionate about film. That the movie also encompasses national, familial, political, personal, sexual, intellectual, and artistic themes brings the narrative to an epic level of romantic drama. Still, it never over-stresses its implicit nature as an all-inclusive portrait of love.

Rated NC-17. 179 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)


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