The Sense of an Ending


Jim Broadbent may be stalking YOU.

(2017) Romance (CBS) Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer, James Wilby, Edward Holcroft, Billy Howle, Freya Mavor, Joe Alwyn, Peter White, Hilton McRae, Jack Loxton, Timothy Innes, Andrew Buckley, Karina Hernandez, Nick Mohammed, Charles Furness, Guy Paul, Alexa Davies, Dorothy Duffy, Kelly Price. Directed by Ritesh Batra

 

Our memories are in many ways what shape us; they are the filter of our experiences and our means of recalling the important things in our lives both positive and negative. As any police detective will tell you however memory is notoriously unreliable; we have a tendency to bury the unpleasant ones and often change facts to suit our world view. Confronted with the things that actually happened to us, our memories can turn out to be a fragile, ephemeral thing.

Tony Webster (Broadbent) is retired and spends his days running a used camera shop in London, one of those delightful niche shops that give London character. He is a bit of a curmudgeon who compared to most shopkeepers doesn’t really want to be bothered by actual customers; they tend to throw a monkey wrench into his carefully organized existence which he protects like a mama bear with her cubs. He has an existence largely removed from the world and that’s very much by choice.

He is essentially a jovial sort on the surface but a bit of a dodderer, enough to be the source of rolling eyes for his barrister ex-wife Margaret (Walter) and his pregnant lesbian daughter Susie (Dockery) who is preparing to embark on single motherhood. Both feel genuine affection for the man (Margaret keeping his last name even though they’re long divorced) but he can be exasperating at times.

Then he gets a letter from a solicitor announcing that the mother (Mortimer) of an ex-girlfriend has passed away, bequeathing to him a small sum of money and more important to Tony, the diary of his ex-friend Adrian (Alwyn). He is reminded of his college days when he (Howle) and Veronica (Mavor) were a thing and Adrian was his closest friend and a person he looked up to with almost a sense of hero-worship. However when Veronica ends up dumping Tony in favor of Adrian, the young Tony writes a poisoned pen letter to the both of them that ends up with tragic consequences.

Now the aged Veronica (Rampling) isn’t willing to part with the diary and Tony isn’t willing to let it lie on general principles (“She willed it to me. It belongs to me” he whines) and  so he pursues legal recourse but possession is nine tenths of the law and in any case no constable is going to force a grieving daughter to give up a diary that she doesn’t want to. Without other recourse, Tony decides to take matters into his own hands and starts stalking Veronica and discovers that what happened in his past isn’t exactly what he thought happened and his own role in events was not what he remembered.

Based on a novel by Julian Barnes, this is directed at a somewhat stately pace by Batra who has also helmed the excellent The Lunchbox. In some ways this has a Merchant-Ivory vibe to it, not necessarily because some of it is set in the past but more the literary feel to the film as well as content that appeals to a more mature, thinking person’s audience.

The smartest thing Batra did was casting Jim Broadbent. One of the most reliable actors of our time, Broadbent – who has an Oscar nomination on his resumé – is given a complex character to work with and to his credit gives that character further dimension. Tony has a heavy streak of self-deception in his nature and Broadbent humanizes that aspect of the part. When confronted with his behavior, I do believe Tony doesn’t realize he’s done anything wrong and he is surprised when others think so. He simply doesn’t understand why Veronica behaves towards him as she does. He may not even realize that he opened a second-hand camera shop due to her influence (she was a photographer when he met her and her love for Leica cameras stayed with him to this very day) although I suspect he does.

Rampling is fresh off an Oscar nomination of her own and while this is a much different role for her, she reminds us what a capable actress she always has been and continues to impress with roles that in lesser hands might have ended up being one-dimensional or at least possessed of less depth. Veronica has been visited by tragedy that Tony simply doesn’t understand and it has haunted her the remainder of her days.

The movie won’t appeal much to those looking for escape or for those who may lack the seasoning to appreciate the movies nuance. In my own taste I don’t think there is such a thing but I have to say that it may be too nuanced for some. While I generally recommend reading a book to watching a movie in most cases, this has a very literary feel that I find refreshing in a day and age when movies tend to rely more on CGI and star power.

The film is a bit flawed in the sense that its twist is heavily telegraphed although to be fair the book this is based on is told chronologically so in a sense that follows the book as well although the movie relies on flashbacks more so than the book. What makes the movie worth seeing is the character study particularly of Tony; Broadbent gives us plenty of meat to chew on from that standpoint.

Definitely if you are in the mood for a mindless blockbuster this isn’t where you want to go but if you are in the mood to have something appeal to your intellect, if you want a slice of English life or if you just want to watch some fine acting this is a pretty good selection in that category. It’s definitely flawed but Broadbent and Rampling are both so wonderful that they make even a flawed movie seem like great art.

REASONS TO GO: Broadbent and Rampling deliver strong performances as you might expect.
REASONS TO STAY: This is probably not for younger audiences.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as an image of violence, a bit of sexuality and mature thematic concerns.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mortimer and Goode were previously featured together in Woody Allen’s 2005 film Match Point.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/19/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 45 Years
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Six Rounds

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The Truth About Romance


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A beautiful girl on the bank of a canal - ah, English Spring!

A beautiful girl on the bank of a canal – ah, English Spring!

2013) Romantic Dramedy (A Tiny Adventure/Vimeo) Jordan Greenhough, Danielle Jackson, Craig Asquith, Donna Parry, Leonora Moore, Margaret Cowan. Directed by James G. Wall

There is something about twenty-somethings. At that age, emotion is felt most keenly and love is a life or death struggle. When you make it to my age, you look back on that time of your life with a mixture of nostalgia – I do miss the intensity of feeling and that bloom of love that makes life so much more colorful – and relief. Relief in that I no longer have to put up with that crap.

Josh (Greenhough) is unfortunately smack dab in the middle of that age and like many men that age is caught in the undertow and treacherous currents that are smashing him about the rocks of life. He has been in love with Jessie (Moore) – a co-worker of his – for years. They’ve been sharing a lift to work each morning and Josh has finally decided to confess his feelings to her.

She has news of her own however: she has a new job, one that will take her to Paris. Josh is devastated. His shrill harpy of a mother (Cowan) warned him that this was going to happen and now it has. He texts his pal Chris (Asquith), meaning to get together with him to drown his sorrows in lager. Chris receives his texts at the breakfast table, oblivious to the sad looks that his girlfriend Zoe (Parry) is shooting him. She is thinking they could go out together tonight but Chris has already said yes to a boy’s night out. Resigned, she watches him leave for work.

Josh is eating his lunch on a park bench disconsolately when a beautiful young woman sits down next to him. Perky and pixiesque, she draws him out of his funk somewhat and before he knows what is happening he has given her his name, accepted an invitation to a party that evening and taken a note with her address and mobile number on it. She introduces herself as Emily (Jackson).

At first Josh is reluctant to go to the party but Chris insists once he finds out about it. He knows full well that the best thing for Josh is some meaningless sex, preferably with someone who has absolutely no ambitions. Josh winds up misinterpreting Emily’s signals but the two wind up in her bedroom, getting to know each other in a non-Biblical sense and for his part, Josh is completely enchanted by her.

Chris on the other hand gets rip-roaring, out-of-his-mind, stupid drunk. He meets a pair of young women at the party and sleeps with both of them…at once. When he gets home, Zoe can smell their perfume on him and demands to know what happened. Chris confesses his sins and Zoe tells him to get his bottom right out the door. He ends up staying with Josh.

Josh is rightfully concerned for his best mate but he is completely head-over-heels in love with Emily and in all honesty, it’s hard to understand why anyone wouldn’t be. She’s bright, sexy, funny and flirtatious. She draws Josh out of the shell he’s in and slowly he lets her in.

As the weekend progresses, Josh’s relationship with Emily seems to be going better and better whereas Chris and Zoe are disintegrating before their eyes. Chris realizes that he loves Zoe and doesn’t want to be without her but that ship may well have sailed. As for Josh and Emily, he can’t bear to be apart from her…but does she feel the same way about him?

Wall has previously made a handful of short films; this is his feature debut. Like an increasing number of young filmmakers, he is eschewing the system of shopping his film to distributors and instead is putting it right on YouTube and Vimeo for anyone to stream or download at their leisure – those interested in seeing it can click here if they wish. With a production budget of under £200 (about $325 U.S. at current exchange rates) this is the kind of movie even I can afford to make – but to Wall’s credit, it doesn’t look at all like a movie that costs less than an annual Disney pass.

It is also a lot better written than most first-time features. There’s an authenticity here that you generally don’t find in a big-budget Hollywood production. These are people who are awkward and unsure of the rules of the game – like playing chess with checker pieces on a Monopoly board. They are terrified of rejection, longing for acceptance and lonely in the soul-crushing way that can only be experienced by someone in their 20s. Constantly glued to their iPhones texting one another, playing videogames and waiting for that phone call, this is as realistic a portrayal of people in their 20s in the second decade of the 21st century as you’re likely to find. If these aspects place the film firmly in this era, I still think that there is a timeless element to the goings-on as well.

The cast is surprisingly able. Josh listens to music constantly on a pair of ear buds and occasionally warbles a tune or two of his own. Greenhough instills Josh with a goofy kind of charm, a big kid with shoes on the wrong feet. Somehow you end up rooting for him even though he can be a frustrating handful – at one point he waits for Emily to call him but clearly is desperate to talk to her. You want to shake him by the scruff of his neck and scream “CALL HER YOU IDIOT!!!!” I can completely relate to the character, having been a shy and graceless twenty-something myself once. Fortunately, I survived and so will Josh.

Jackson is crazy beautiful, the kind of gorgeous that makes you look twice to make sure you saw her right the first time. In a lot of indie films, this kind of character is full of quirks and neuroses that if you met that sort in real life you wouldn’t want to spend five seconds with them let alone 90 minutes. Jackson gives her a vulnerability that is curiously moving as well as an intelligence that makes you hang on her every word. With Zooey Deschanel getting fame and fortune on television, there is a void in the indie film world that I think Jackson could potentially fill; indie filmmakers should have her number on speed dial.

I also liked Asquith as the lovable schlub Chris who gets drunk and makes a startlingly bad decision. I know from experience that cheating is a deal-breaker for a lot of women and frankly, I felt a certain amount of sympathy for him but also for Zoe as well. Their relationship was clearly on the ropes already with both of them being desperately unhappy but they were too frightened to let go. One might argue that his indiscretion might have been the best thing for the both of them as it allows them both to move on. I’m sure a lot of women might disagree with me there. In any case, Chris as played by Asquith isn’t a particularly mean or rotten guy; he’s just not very sensitive or wise about women. Women generally characterize guys like him as jerks but that might be a bit harsh – Chris really doesn’t intend to hurt anybody. Of course, intentions are immaterial; he in fact does wound Zoe deeply and there are consequences to that which Chris eventually accepts.

I remember the great American film critic Gene Siskel used to love movies like this, films that give you a peek into ordinary lives and through that glimpse allow you to draw insights into your own life. I think he might well have given this film a solid thumbs up although there are a few things that he would have called it to task for – one of the most glaring is that the music is mainly composed of Jacko Hooper’s indie pop songs with vocals which sometimes make it difficult for you to hear the actual dialogue of the film. While I understand this is meant to give you an idea of what Josh is listening to on his headphones or on the radio or at the party, it is distracting when you are trying to make out what the characters are trying to say. I wound up having to rewind a couple of times until I understood the dialogue. Perhaps Mr. Wall would have been better served to get instrumental tunes on the soundtrack.

Be that as it may, this is impressive not just for a first time film, not just for a film with a three figure budget but for any film. Love and relationships is a tricky subject for any filmmaker; while we all have been through the romance wars, few of us truly understand what love is and entails. Even at my advanced age I can’t say as I’m an expert; not everything that works for me will work for others and vice versa. All I know is that it is wonderful and terrible to be in love. It is far worse not to be.

REASONS TO GO: Looks like it had a far bigger budget than it had. A realistic slice of life.

REASONS TO STAY: Sometimes hard to hear the dialogue over the pop music playing constantly in the background.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some sexuality and drinking, along with some mildly bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Emily, when asked to name her favorite book and band, names Blankets, the award-winning autobiographical graphic novel by Craig Thompson, and Jacko Hooper who wrote and performed the music and songs for the film.

CRITICAL MASS: Because this film has been release via YouTube and Vimeo there is no page for it on either Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wild Girl Waltz

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Six Days of Darkness 2013 Begins!

The Twilight Saga: New Moon


The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Couldn't you just DIE?!?

(2009) Romantic Fantasy (Summit) Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Rachelle Lefevre, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Nikki Reed, Kellen Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning, Anna Kendrick, Chaske Spencer, Christopher Heyerdahl. Directed by Chris Weitz

Some movies are aimed squarely for a specific audience segment and you just have to go with that particular flow. It you don’t mind accepting that you’re not the target audience, you can enjoy the movie at least on an intellectual level.

The Twilight saga continues with the second installment of the four-book series. Edward Cullen (Pattinson) and Bella Swan (Stewart) are deeply in love and looking forward to Bella’s 18th birthday, which she intends to spend at a celebration at the really nice Cullen place in the woods. When she accidentally cuts her finger, it sets off Jasper (Rathbone) and ends up with Bella getting hurt. Edward recognizes that it is far too dangerous for Bella to remain with his kind and he dumps her, heading off to Italy to hang out with the Volturi, the eldest of the Vampires.

Bella is devastated by this and spends much of the movie in a funk, crying and brooding and in general, acting as if her life is over. Most teenage girls can relate to this – when you can’t be with that cute boy you love, you just want to die and so Bella does, convinced that each time she is on the brink of death, Edward’s spirit comes around to save her so that, at least that way, the two of them can be together. Mothers of teenage daughters please take note – this is very unhealthy and should be discouraged.

Bella is taken under the wing of Jacob Black (Lautner), the Native American who has buffed up quite a bit since the first movie and spends much of his time not wearing a shirt to make sure you know how buff he is. He has taken to hanging out with the Wolf Pack, a bunch of equally buff and shirtless Native Americans led by Sam (Spencer) who like Jacob and the rest of the Wolf Pack, harbors a secret – they’re all werewolves (although this is treated as a secret plot point, it is well known enough that I don’t mind revealing it here). Jacob and Bella begin to get a little closer than just besties.

In the meantime Bella is being stalked by Victoria (Lafevre) who has vowed vengeance on her after the events of the first movie and the Wolf Pack mean to protect her – as do some of the Cullens, especially Alice (Greene) who has come to warn her that Edward, lovesick and moping around, means to reveal himself to non-vampires which would mean his death by Volturi.

The success of the first movie meant a much bigger budget for the second, which means this is a much better-looking film than the first, where the special effects were bargain-basement. Here, they are more extensive and a bit better-realized but all in all the point of the movie isn’t the special effects, it’s the romance at the center. Or, in this case, romances.

The whole Team Edward vs. Team Jacob thing is set up here. Certainly Bella is firmly entrenched in Team Edward at this point. There is a Romeo and Juliet thing that seems to be pulsing through the movie, from its Italian denouement to the reading of the play in class at the movie’s beginning. The star-crossed lovers thing is reinforced by the looks of aching and longing that is supposed to be soulful but sometimes comes off more like Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.”

Part of my issue with the film is that Bella is so damn bland. Most of the movie, people are telling her how special she is, from her dad (Burke) to Jacob to Edward to Alice to…OMG, like, everyone. I just don’t see it. When Edward dumps her, she falls apart and not just for a little while, I mean for almost the entire movie she can’t breathe, she hurts so much.

We’ve all been there. Most of us who have ever had their hearts broken (and that’s most of us) can relate to her pain. What I can’t relate to is how long it goes on, her obsession driving her every move, including bringing herself into near-death experiences just so she can see the apparition of her lost love. While it’s highly romantic and appealing to adolescent girls, it is somewhat disturbing that this unhealthy behavior is seemingly celebrated here as the right way to behave for a loyal loving heart. It really isn’t ladies…trust me on this.

Like the first movie, the performances are as good as you’d expect – not really outstanding but not bad either. The addition of Sheen and Fanning to the cast adds a little bump up in the talent, but they aren’t seen much. The movie mainly resides in the hands of Stewart, and she spends most of the time moping. It isn’t her fault – Stewart is proving to be a pretty decent actress although she mostly gets to show that in other films – the story is set up that way. Still, it’s hard to get behind a character that you just want to shake and scream in her face “Enough, already!”

Lautner is much more integral to the movie and he’s an appealing young actor who has better things ahead of him, but to this point his role is essentially a one-dimensional nice guy who is meant to be the thankless best friend role that is blossoming into maybe something else but never will because Bella is “meant” to be with Edward. Hmm.

I have to say that overall, I didn’t like this movie as much as the first – which, to be fair, is usually the case with sequels. As in the case of the first film, this review is pretty superfluous – girls gonna see it no matter what anyone writes. There is nothing more loyal and steadfast than a teenage girl in love, and there are few things that teenage girls are in love with more than a tragic love story that appeals to the drama in their lovely teenage hearts, bless them all.

No, I’m not the audience this movie is meant for and for those who aren’t this movie isn’t as compelling or engaging as the first. However, for those who love the books and the first movie, this isn’t going to disappoint and while it likely won’t convert any new fans, it won’t dissuade any old ones from their rabid devotion to the series.

WHY RENT THIS: For the adolescent or pre-adolescent girl in your family – and their mom.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Well, you’re not one.

FAMILY VALUES: If you don’t mind a little bit of fantasy vampire/werewolf violence, it’s pretty much acceptable for everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Weitz also directed The Golden Compass based on a bestselling young adult fantasy series.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Summit chose to market a variety of different editions that were exclusively available at specific retailers, each with their own unique features which made choosing the edition you wanted difficult and confusing. Common to all were a series of features which included one on how the success of the first movie affected the lives of the actors. In addition, the Deluxe Edition (available only at Target) had a featurette on the music of the film and at the die-hard nature of the series’ fans, as well as one on the Volturi. The Ultimate Fan Edition (Wal-Mart) had a documentary about the impact of the series on Forks, Washington – the real life town where the series is set (and some of the scenes are filmed), and a look at the love triangle and the rabid fans who choose Team Edward or Team Jacob. The Medallion edition (Borders) comes with a medallion necklace that has a wolf head crest on one side and the Cullen family crest on the other. Finally the Steelbook Package (Best Buy) comes in a special steel case and comes with a free cell phone skin.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $709.8M on a $50M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Tenderness

Two Lovers


Two Lovers

Isabella Rossellini comforts Joaquin Phoenix.

(2008) Romantic Drama (Magnolia) Joaquin Phoenix, Gwynneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rossellini, Elias Koteas, Moni Moshonov, Samantha Ivers. Directed by James Gray

It is difficult to really find the path that’s right for you in life. Early on, your parents may choose one for you and maybe it’s a good path, but right for them, not for you. And if you have a damaged soul, it can be particularly difficult to find any path at all.

Leonard Kraditor (Phoenix) is coming off of one of those romantic break-ups that sucks your soul right out of your body and sends it spinning into the ether. He is somewhat damaged goods to begin with, having issues with bipolar disorder (which to the film’s credit is treated matter-of-factly instead of as a dramatic device) and the break-up shakes him up badly.

He winds up moving back in with his parents in Brighton Beach. He also starts working for his dad (Moshonov) in the dry cleaning business delivering garments to his customers. His mom (Rossellini) wants him to marry a nice Jewish girl (instead of the shikseh who broke his heart) and sets him up with Sandra Cohen (Shaw), the daughter of another dry cleaner. Matchmaker, matchmaker make me a match…

Sandra and Leonard seem to hit it off, but that’s before he meets Michelle (Paltrow), a neighbor who makes Leonard’s problems look positively non-existent.  She is volatile, capricious and prone to grand dramatic gestures and to top things off she’s seeing a married man (Koteas) with problems of his own. On the surface, they would seem to be bad news for one another – which is why they are so attracted to each other, of course.

Of course, Leonard’s mom is mortified; this can only end in disaster and emergency rooms and suicide attempts. Surprisingly, Sandra isn’t about to give up an essentially good man like Leonard without a fight – and Leonard isn’t willing to give up Michelle without one either. How can any man find happiness with two lovers?

The point is, they can’t. At some point you have to commit and that’s what Leonard, whose broken heart has yet to fully heal, has trouble with. It’s in many ways a very powerful look at a situation that we could potentially find ourselves in, particularly in a time where love can become as lethal as an Arizona whacko. Okay, maybe not that lethal.

This is a movie for smart people to a very large degree; there are few of the clichés that dumb down Hollywood romances so often these days and there seems to be at least an attempt to add some realism to the relationships between admittedly damaged people. While yes there’s an element of New York hip to the movie (which can be a deal killer for Big Apple haters), the filmmakers concentrate on the broken shards of Leonard and Michelle’s lives and how they are trying to reassemble something into a whole. There is no pat ending and no Romance 101 storyline. The relationships have ups and downs and Leonard winds up facing a real dilemma; both of these girls are “right” for him only in different ways, and each comes with her own drawbacks. Choosing one over the other is no easy matter and no matter how he chooses, someone’s going to get their heart broken, possibly Leonard himself as well.

The performances are suitably muted and layered with depths of pain and humanity which are gradually peeled away. This is particularly true of Phoenix and Paltrow; Shaw really doesn’t have as much to work with but she does a solid job as perhaps the only person here I’d want to spend more than an afternoon with.

The movie unfortunately garnered more press for Phoenix’ antics while promoting it; it is while doing press for this movie that he made his now-notorious announcement that he was retiring from acting to take up a hip-hop career which turned out to be an elaborate – and somewhat baffling – hoax, as well as his legendary appearance on the Letterman show that resulted in David Letterman’s now famous line “Thanks for joining us Joaquin. It’s too bad you couldn’t be here tonight.” To a degree, Phoenix wound up overshadowing the movie in terms of hype which I think wound up ultimately doing the film a disservice.

WHY RENT THIS: A well-acted, intelligent slice of life-type look at a young man who is kind of drifting through life and facing a tough decision.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The somewhat adrift central characters can be maddening. Those who don’t like New York-centric films might find reason to loathe this.

FAMILY VALUES: It has its fair share of vulgar language, a bit of sexuality (some of it fairly raw) and a little smidgeon of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is set in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn. Paltrow’s mother, actress Blythe Danner, starred in the 1986 movie Brighton Beach Memoirs.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16.3M on an unreported production budget; the film in all likelihood came close to breaking even or might have even made a little bit of cash.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Bigger Stronger Faster