romance

Review – Wildalone

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Review – Wildalone

According to the blurb on the cover, Krassi Zourkova’s Wildalone has everything I’m looking for in a romance novel: magic, music, angst, and lots of sex. A young woman travels to America and Princeton, tries to solve a mystery, ends up in a whirlwind romance with a handsome, mysterious fellow, and is tempted by his equally handsome and mysterious brother. I figured it’d be a fun read, nothing too serious, just lots of fantasy and passion.

I was wrong. It’s a ridiculously infuriating book.

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Water for Elephants

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Water for Elephants

When I finished Sara Gruen’s novel, I hugged it before I put it down.  I just loved the feel of it, the story, the characters, and I was sorry when it was over.  When they announced the film, I was pleased — until they announced that Robert Pattinson would be playing Jacob, the lead.  The last time I did not want to punch Pattinson in the face was when Voldemort cut him down in a cemetery in Little Hangleton.  Even with Reese Witherspoon and the two-for-two Christoph Waltz, I was nervous that the main character would not be the lovely man I had loved on the page.  Then Hal Holbrook plays elderly him in the framing narrative, and all was well in the world.  Of course Waltz is as always a freaking genius.  Pattinson and Witherspoon do look strange together, but it’s no matter — the story flows smoothly around them; it’s less about any love among these people than love for the world of the circus, anyway.

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Jane Eyre (2011)

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Jane Eyre (2011)

As many long-suffering high schoolers did, I read Jane Eyre in 9th grade and hated it.  Later, of course, I reread it and loved it!  Even as I warmed to Charlotte Bronte’s surprisingly astute judge of the psychological damage inflicted by the callous societal attitudes of the day, I never really got why Jane went for Mr. Rochester.  Simple as that.  In a culture of withholding and cruelty, his “charms” could best be described as “as expected” rather than alluring on any level.

In this adaptation, screenwriter Moira Buffini and director Cary Fukunaga finally helped me get it.  From Rochester’s hysterical secret to Jane’s default setting of undeservingness, Buffini takes them both to a place of mutual respect and understanding.  It may not necessarily be true to the text as such (it has been quite a while) but it’s true to the spirit of Jane.

Casting Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) as the glowering antihero was equally as inspired a choice as using Colin Firth in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice:  both of them are unconventionally handsome and gentle actors thrust into roles that radiate unpleasantness and are difficult to warm to.  Rochester’s irrational grumps and rages feel more human coming out of Fassbender, not unlike Firth’s cold and cutting remarks.  It’s the only way to insert humanity into them onscreen in the truncated time span of a film.

Mia Wasikowska’s Jane is stoic and unselfconsciously beautiful, frail-looking but strong as bamboo when tried.  We can see all her internal scars, feel the effects of her abusive upbringing, even as the movie is forced to rush through the extent of it.  From such a barren life grows a fierce weed, almost mannish her lack of guile or vanity — and from thence her appeal.  It’s funny how literary and contemporary men always decry women for leaving their feminine place, but are yet always drawn to the outspoken, independent, fearless women they decry.

This version of Jane Eyre is light on Rochester being cruel to her himself, and in that fails the story just a little — but I confess I enjoyed it more for that.  I also liked the sense of Rochester being in the world when Jane has not been.  Not only in terms of his bastard ward, but just his whole clearly grown-up-ness and jaded weariness — yet still he is weaker than this beaten down servant girl.

My one quibble is a sort of narrative device that confused me — and likely might have done for anyone who hadn’t read the book at all.  The whole episode with St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters, I had forgotten happened at all.  So when we’re shown the flight across the — moors? heath? — by Jane, twice, it’s not immediately evident where it falls in the timeline, both times.  It can be worked out and it’s not vital, but it rendered a scene a little contextually confusing, implying through editing that Rivers helped her find her job at Thornfield, the Rochester house.  It’s only a quibble.  I enjoyed this film very much.  I hope you will too.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 3/11/11

Time in minutes 120

Director Cary Fukunaga

Studio Focus Features

The Adjustment Bureau

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The Adjustment Bureau

The previews for the Adjustment Bureau make it seem like a psychological thriller, but one with vaguely Matrix-y overtones.  In reality, this film is a romance in metaphysical thriller drag, and an interesting take on the notion of predetermination.  Based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team,” which I have not read, this film veers away from Dick’s more nihilistic tones (see: Blade Runner) and into ones of overt sweetness, which I imagine are not present in the original story, but were pleasant to witness.

While watching the film play out, our winsome leads Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are compelling and lovely and the machinations of the titular bureau are interesting to watch.  As a work of filmmaking, Adjustment Bureau is sexy and solid and entertaining.  Damon is a credible young politician, driven and charismatic.  Blunt is a graceful but relatable dancer, the Perfect Girl embodied but with aspirations of her own.

The visual tricks that help convey the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Adjusters are simple and effective.  Thomas Newman’s score is reliably lovely to hear and John Toll’s photography is typically gorgeous.  I was amused by the mid-century-yet-timeless feel of the Bureau members and witnessing their petty bureaucratic hierarchies.  The messages of love and possession and release were all good, and the story kept me interested.

That said, once I left the theatre the whole façade fell apart.  I often have this problem with adaptations of Dick stories because for some reason the big ideas never really grow into anything with any solidity for me, which is why I suspect this story veers as above.   When your deus ex machine actually has a deus in it, you know you’ve painted yourself into a corner.

The idea of small moments causing huge ripples in the universe is not a new one.  The idea that there is a Plan, specifically on that undergoes constant revision, is the most compelling thing about the story. The fact that the interfering minions aren’t privy to the Plan was a fun running theme. The notion that the Plan changes but leaves echoes of itself behind (so that what was once meant to be later becomes not so) vexed me, but is integral to the story. An omnipotent, omniscient being running things through discreet micromanaging (a spill of coffee, a dropped phone call) seems both reasonable and ridiculous.

What is the point of all this meddling and greater good power if it is so easily thwarted or redesigned?  It confounded the cool idea that our free will is an illusion, that every time we as a species are left in charge of our destinies, we screw it up — so why respond to our stubbornness by updating the plan?  The film seemed too contradictory to really hold up.

That said, the chemistry and inevitability of Damon and Blunt was sweet to witness and the action as it unfolds is enjoyable to watch.  Rent at your leisure.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 3/4/11

Time in minutes 106

Director George Nolfi

Studio Universal Pictures

No Strings Attached

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No Strings Attached

During the actual 110 minute runtime of this movie, surrounded by laughing and appreciative audience members, I was able to enjoy and buy into the tale spun by screenwriter Elizabeth Merriwether from her story with Mike Samonek.  In the emotionally harrowing world of post-college (Ok, post-30, post-40) singlehood, the fantasy of two lovely people having hot but angst-free sex seems not only convenient, but appealing.  Why compromise your morning routine or negotiate where you spend Christmas when hot acrobatics are just a text away?  Naturally, our sexy protagonists Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) cannot help but fall in love — it is a movie, after all – their intimacy, free of relationship, guarantees a sort of jovial acceptance of each other.  Of course they are both real catches.  She’s a doctor with a lifelong fear of any kind of emotional vulnerability, and he’s a Hollywood assistant shying away from his father’s fame.  Said father is played delectably by Kevin Kline!

 

It’s a delicious dream to have your sexy cake and eat it to, but a dream that simply cannot survive in Hollywood and Puritan-based America.  We can’t have a beautiful woman like Portman refuse to be in a relationship!  At the same time, we can no longer accept a hot guy would only want sex; what an unfair stereotype!  Naturally his heart melts first.  Paralleling the backwards courtship of Adam and Emma are their respective best friends, Eli (Jake M. Johnson) and Patrice (Greta Gerwig).  Eli and Patrice meet through the leads and slowly grow into a “regular” couple through the traditional channels.  At no point is their progress touted or presented as the preferable way, but it does remind those of us watching that all Adam and Emma are doing is pretending to not be emotionally vulnerable and living out our fantasies without suffering any of the consequences.

 

But here’s the thing.  Thanks to oxytocin (the bonding hormone exuded after sex) and cultural norms and all sorts of narrative expectations and cultural whatsit, this is a dangerous fantasy to propagate in film.  We can’t endorse dogs and cats humping together!  We can’t tell everyone that hookups lead to love either!  Sure, people enter into friends with benefits-type setups all the time.  Do they end amicably?  Sometimes.  Does one person get attached when the other one doesn’t?  Often.  Do they find their perfect mate and retain the passion of illicit, trouble-free coitus after revealing who they really are inside (typically the kind of person who aggressively is terrified of revealing who they really are)?  Not so much.  Romantic comedies used to ply us with the dream that someone somewhere will see the person we really are as the catch she really is and then move heaven and earth to win her.  Now all it seems she has to do is remain emotionally aloof.  Most guys would really be like, “sweet, I don’t even have to remember her birthday!”  It’s the perfect male fantasy in stereotypical female fantasy drag.  Consequence-free and extra-forgiving sex for him and real love despite your socially crippling psychological issues for her: good news everyone!  Emotional unavailability is curable with copious applications of making no demands of another person.  Good luck out there, guys and gals who have a dream.

 

This may sound a little harsh.  I did really enjoy watching Portman and Kutcher negotiate their arrangement, Johnson and Gerwig were fun, Kline of course is divine, and the whole supporting cast was lots of fun.  Lake Bell plays an uncomfortably familiar coworker of Kutcher’s and brought some great laughs.  The music and dialogue are both great — Merriwether has a gift for dialogue that I wish had been granted the vaguely similarly themed How Do You Know.  Kutcher and Portman have great friend chemistry, great sexy moments, and are easy on the eyes.  The characters are all very enjoyable, and again, the fantasy is a powerful one.  My lower grade comes from walking maybe 20 feet out of the theatre and being overwhelmed by the depressing realization that this may be the best dream that Hollywood can offer me.  Is the secret to emotional happiness the exact opposite of everything evidenced by humanity in real life?  Is the point really just that love is just as capricious and elusive as ever?  I applaud everyone’s performance in the movie, but I reserve my praise for worthier dreams.

MPAA Rating  R-sexual content, language, some drug use

Release date 1/21/11

Time in minutes 110

Director Ivan Reitman

Studio Paramount Pictures

 

Never Let Me Go

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Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go

Matinee with Snacks

Based on the quiet and elegant book by Kazuo Ishiguro (he also wrote Remains of the Day), Never Let Me Go is a wonderful adaptation. Not only does director Mark Romanek (most notably One Hour Photo) capture the tone and sense of mystery of the novel, but director of photography Adam Kimmel gives the alternate world a grounded and even quaint feel, which belies the cold ethical questions at hand. It’s foggy and cold, even on sunny green days, a world whose back is turned (not from scorn, from discomfort) on this anachronistic institution. If you go in ignorant of the real premise, you may still feel like something is off about this small world. Halisham is a boarding school in the 1978 British countryside. The drab grey clothes and the rigorous yet permissive environment all feel foreign and false. Screenwriter Alex Garland (notably Sunshine and 28 Days Later) feeds out what you need to know with grace; by the time you’re watching what in lesser hands could have been The Island or Dollhouse, you’re hooked on the characters.

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I Love You Phillip Morris

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I Love You Phillip Morris

The events in this film are true ones — which makes it possible to enjoy the seemingly impossible misadventures of pathological con man Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) for what they are. If it were fiction, you’d roll your eyes at the ridiculous stretching you would need to do to suspend your disbelief. This may force some comparisons to Catch Me If You Can, but as the title implies, Russell’s motives are not eluding the authorities or even his own gain, but instead are for caring for those who most matter to him. He’s not greedy or a narcissist, he’s a guy who just wants to do right by his family, be it his wife and daughter or the love of his life, Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). Russell’s story is simply unbelievable — and all true.

We can debate all day and night as to why Hollywood casts straight actors in gay roles (see this film’s polar opposite, Brokeback Mountain, where the struggle comes from hiding their love rather than supporting it), but for this film, Carrey and McGregor as simply the best big-name choices. No-name actors might have killed this movie, which would be a tragedy. My readers know of my appreciation of Carrey’s acting skills, particularly in the twin arenas of great falseness and true sincerity. Carrey’s natural cock of the walk attitude suits Russell’s effortless impersonations. McGregor need only set his glassine, dreamy eyes to “in love” and you believe in his feelings to his core. He’s great at the aw-shucks and he’s strong enough to match Carrey. Mann gets to show us her non-Apatow side and she too can keep up with Carrey in a scene.

Russell meets Morris in prison, after the former was imprisoned for various moneymaking schemes he devised to support his newly adopted gay lifestyle and lover (Rodrigo Santoro). Before he accepted his homosexuality, he was an aggressively normal husband to Leslie Mann, living on the down-low and existing wrapped in lies, searching for who he really is. However, once he meets Morris, he opens like a flower, giving his heart with all honesty of feeling — but his need to lie about who he is continues, keeping his love alive and happy at any cost. Some of those costs lead to more legal misadventures and cross-purposes with McGregor. Through it all he adores Morris, and they have true happiness. His facility with pretending makes for some serious hilarity. What’s most enjoyable about the movie is how funny it is, and also how very romantic and sweet. It’s heartfelt and has an ending you will not see coming so don’t Google it! Let the movie take you there.

MPAA Rating R- sexual content including strong dialogue, and language.
Release date 12/3/10
Time in minutes 100
Director Glenn Ficarra, John Fequa
Studio Roadside Attractions

Tangled

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Tangled

Disney’s trumpeting Tangled as its 50th animated feature seems a bit defensive at first.They pioneered the medium of animation in terms of technique, story adaptation, and marketing, paving the way for those young upstarts like Pixar and Dreamworks to take the ball and run with it later.

Still, 72 years later, people still think of animation as a genre of itself, not a storytelling medium, a kid’s parlor trick rather than a means of telling a story. Tangled, as an adaptation of the centuries-old tale of Rapunzel, can do little to defend against these stodgy critics. However, Tangled is about growing up, and it’s a testament to its 49 predecessors in demonstrating how much Disney itself has also grown up.

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Going the Distance

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Going the Distance

Going The Distance

Matinee with Snacks

Real-life on-again-off-again couple Drew Barrymore and Justin Long have undeniable chemistry in this film.  The two are so winsome, yet comfortably-familiar but still accessibly-normal as people that their whole relationship feels as fated and perfect as new loves always do. What’s great about this movie is that instead of taking 90 minutes for two people to figure out they should be together, our leads pretty much know it from the start. The journey is the harder, less glamorous work of overcoming real obstacles to their happiness. It’s a really mature love story with plenty of hilarious sex jokes and wit to make it a rollicking ride and make you feel young (again).

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Easy A

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Easy A

Emma Stone finally gets the lead in a movie, as she has clearly deserved since she appeared in Superbad. Lucky her, this movie is a tremendous vehicle for her. How can one teen girl be so impossibly cool, sexy, erudite, and funny? Any child of the on-screen union of Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson would be — and thus any “she’s too prodigal” complaint goes right out the window.

The premise is simple — a sweet but invisible girl gets caught up in society’s terrible Puritanical double standard about women and sex when she lies about having had sex, and soon her life and reputation is in tatters. The very folks who pressured her to be cool and Do It now vilify her (and/or try and engage her services) for doing so.

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