Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Best of the Worst: RomComs of Yesteryear

I've been bingeing on terrible romcoms from the late 90s/early 00s, and I need to talk about how terrible-wonderful they are.

Remember those days? When you were given a heroine and a love interest and they HATED each other and then they LOVED each other and then they HATED each other again and then they MADE UP and there were some funny things that happened in between? They really don't make 'em like that anymore. The formula doesn't really work anymore. The closest thing that we've gotten in recent memory are things like Trainwreck and The Other Woman, neither of which did incredibly well. So let's go back in time to when things were formulaic and the world was a little bit simpler.

Kate and Leopold
 

The powers that be decided to take two of their ole romcom staples and shove them into another formulaic masterpiece. Said shoved actors in this case are Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman. Watching this through the lens of current movies -- in which we see the romcom becoming a dying breed because audiences now thirst for authenticity -- this movie is a riot. When Kate (Meg Ryan) discovers that her ex-boyfriend/neighbor has found a portal into 1876 and that a duke has followed him back, she doesn't believe him. But Leopold (Hugh Jackman) is a breath of fresh air in the terribly rushed, tech-obsessed (Kate can't find her Palm Pilot!!), and cigarette-fueled year of 2001. Will Kate decide to take Leopold as he is (a duke from 1876) or will she choose her demanding career as an ad exec. I'll give you one guess.

What Women Want
 

Oh, Mel. What happened? Charming-if-misogynistic Nick (Mel Gibson) is New York's hottest ad exec, but is becoming wary of the fact that he is only ever assigned ad content for men (hot women, hot cars, hot things in general). When his new boss, Darcy (Helen Hunt), not only steals his promotion but turns out to be a woman, Nick is eager to make her look like a fool. One night, in a twist of fate, he electrocutes himself and is given the gift of hearing women's thoughts. Using this talent for his own means, he invades the thoughts of his new boss to create an ad campaign that will speak to women -- and accidentally ends up falling in love with her. An interesting study in work ethics and dating policies, it is also a hilarious study in the dated polarity of perceived men's vs. women's thoughts. I mean, how could any man POSSIBLY know what a woman is thinking without having to read her thoughts!?

The Wedding Planner
 

JLo plays a career-driven wedding planner named Mary who simply does not have time for men. But all that changes when she has a brush with death and is saved by hot, young pediatrician Steve (Matthew McConaughey). Only one problem -- he's the groom in her client's wedding. As Mary and Steve's chemistry becomes more and more undeniable, will he still go through with his wedding? I think my favorite part of the Wedding Planner these days is how caught up I get in A) how incredibly horrendous JLo is as an actress and B) the color palette of this movie. I bet you think I'm kidding about the latter thing, but I dare you to find another movie where the color lavender should have its own casting credit. Seriously. Look at the trailer even. It could be a drinking game.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
 

Nobody likes a Mr. Sniffles! This film follows Andie (Kate Hudson) a journalist trying to write a piece about how to (you guessed it) lose a guy in ten days. How fortuitous, then, that her prey happens to be Ben (Matthew McConaughey), who ALSO happens to be a journalist trying to write a piece about how to make a woman fall in love with him in ten days (why they didn't land on that as the title, the world may never know). As Ben tries harder to make Andie stick around, Andie's crazy gets out of control. It's actually a pretty fun movie to be honest, if totally cringe-worthy. (You're not helping the women-aren't-crazy movement, Andie.)

He's Just Not That Into You
 

Oh my god. This is a cringe-fest of a movie that I can never turn off once I've turned it on. I don't even know why. It's like watching a car accident. Every time I watch this, I'm literally just shouting at the screen. "GIGI. WHAT ARE YOU DOING. JUST CHILL. OMG." It's like watching everyone on screen willfully make the worst relationship decisions in the book. And somehow, bafflingly, everyone ends up happy. I'm not even going to bother trying to explain the plot of this ensemble nightmare. Just watch the trailer.

Serendipity
 

Jonathon (John Cusack) and Sarah (Kate Beckinsale) meet one fated Christmas Eve when they're both shopping for gloves. After having an evening so romantic they could've hopped a plane to Vegas and gotten married, they decide, instead, to let Fate take it from there, and part ways waiting for a sign that they should see each other again. Fast forward ten years to the weekend of Jonathon's wedding, and Sarah's engagement. Both of them can't stop thinking of each other, and the film turns into their frenzied attempts to get closure before taking a lifelong plunge of commitment with other people. Because that is exactly the right time to pursue someone that you had a pretty good time with this one day, ten years ago, for eight hours.

My Best Friend's Wedding



Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) has just received the news that her ex (Dermot Mulroney), who has been her best friend for 9 years, is marrying a 20-year-old that he met a few months before (Cameron Diaz). Trying to make every woman's nightmare into a fun romp where you're supposed to side with the "other woman" is a little...strained in this flick. And you can bet your ass that in real life things wouldn't be okay by the reception. Lawd.

Coyote Ugly


Ugh, Piper Perabo always seemed to me like a poor man's Julia Roberts. In this fun and trashy flick, Perabo plays Violet, a girl from Jersey who moves to New York City to pursue a career in songwriting. The only problem is that Violet has crippling stage fright, which she apparently hasn't considered might be a stumbling block. After getting a job at a trashy bar called Coyote Ugly, Violet meets Kevin, who gives her the confidence she needs to perform her songs in public. I just gave away the entire movie. Sorry not sorry.

Notting Hill


To be fair, I watched this after two glasses of whiskey and that made it reeeeally fun to make fun of. In a world where Hollywood actresses walk around without security and travel book stores still existed, we meet our heroes: Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) and William Something (Hugh Grant). When Anna meets William at his travel book store, it's an almost instant attraction. Making sure the audience knows that each of them are totally down to earth despite Anna's ritzy background and William's humble one, they quickly fall in love. But fate doesn't seem to be on their side at first, throwing obstacles in their way. Will Anna and William make it work? Tbh, Anna and William have like 0 chemistry and when (spoiler alert! or is it..) they end up together at the end there's a resounding question: "Why?" The story also features William's spectacularly depressing troupe of friends, his zany roommate, and his sister, who is so uncomfortably quirky that she's bordering on insane.

Someone Like You


Okay, this one isn't as terrible as it is a little bewildering. Jane (Ashley Judd) falls in love with Ray (Greg Kinear) but he soon leaves her to go back to his girlfriend. Seeking revenge for her broken heart, Jane moves in with her platonic coworker Eddie (Hugh Jackman) and dives into a harebrained scientific theory about cows and why guys have trouble being monogamous (yes, really). I will say that while the plot is kind of weird, Judd and Jackman are cute, and the movie is half light-hearted romcom and half dealing-with-heartbreak in a way that you don't typically find anymore. Good old-fashioned fluff right here kids, step right up.

Head Over Heels
 

Amanda (Monica Potter) works in art restoration, and moves in with four fashion models after discovering her fiance cheating on her. After meeting a handsome neighbor (Freddie Prinze Jr.), she's convinced that she can move on. But after spotting what looks like foul play, she's determined to get to the bottom of his life before another man can sweep her off her feet in a web of lies. You can imagine her relief when said neighbor is just a CIA agent (where are these people getting these jobs???). Serious points for creativity on this one. Also the high fashion of the early 00s is a riot.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Cure for Wellness: A Lesson in Amazing Thrillers

Oh. My God. Okay, at the risk of over-hyping this movie, I was not expecting it to be as good as it was. Especially for a movie that clocks in at 2.5 hours (a fact that I was blissfully unaware of until I was seated in the theater), I was bracing myself for the worst. But the pacing and the intrigue and the mystery of A Cure for Wellness will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Image result for a cure for wellness
AND LOOK AT THAT POSTER ART.

Our story begins when a young, overly ambitious businessman named Lockhart (first name irrelevant) is sent on a mission by his cutthroat corporation to fetch back their CEO, who has spirited away to a Swiss sanatorium. The only clue that the CEO leaves behind is a grim letter that decries the corporate greed and ambition that his company and the world at large so value. When Lockhart arrives at the sanatorium, he's indirectly barred from speaking to his boss, and so he leaves. Or at least he tries to. After getting into a serious car accident on the way back to civilization, Lockhart is held at the sanatorium until his health "improves." But the longer he's held there, the more questions Lockhart has about the unorthodox methods with which the director, Volmer (Jason Isaacs), treats his patients, the vitamins that everyone takes so religiously, and the ultimate "cure."

Wow wow wow. It's very hard to find a film as trippy and mysterious as A Cure for Wellness that doesn't make you completely impatient for the ending. Cerebral, style-heavy movies like this don't often work for me. I get impatient at the visuals dominating the plot and leave the theater rolling my eyes at art getting in the way of a good story. But it's rare to find a movie as beautifully trippy as A Cure for Wellness, too, that is so well constructed and clean. Throughout the movie the stark, bright antisceptic nature of the sanatorium clearly conceals a bigger secret, especially in contrast with the realism of the village below it. And figuring out what that secret is makes the film so interesting.

Image result for a cure for wellness
(Not an infinity pool.)

Generally, poorly constructed mysteries make the mistake of asking a singular question, hoping that they'll hold the audience's attention long enough for a flash-bang finish that takes their breath away. But they are rarely so lucky. The best mysteries are multilayered, peeling back clues and revealing truths, and giving way to the answer of a larger question that you didn't even realize was being asked.

This movie easily could've turned into an existential sort of crisis plot, where the "cure" is mere symbolism and the action driving the plot is purely mental. But in creating a tangible mystery based on legend and history as well as medicine, this movie can be interpreted in all kinds of ways. It touches on corporate greed, family lineage, mental health, the hypochondriacal wealthy, and SO MANY OTHER THINGS.

Look at the creepy symmetry of those colors.

A word of warning to the squeamish: like any good horror-thriller there is a bit of gore in this that might gross you out. It had to be said. But as a squeamish person myself, I hope this doesn't keep you from going out and seeing it.

9 outa 10. It's so refreshing to see this much creativity, structure, and beauty in a psychological thriller. So many indie films these days get too wrapped up in themselves, but the ending to Cure ends up being straightforward while still managing to be amazingly pulpy.




Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Split: Classic M. Night Original

I've always had somewhat of a loyalty problem with M. Night Shyamalan. As in, I tend to like most of the things that he creates, even if the reason I like them is simply for their original plots.

Also I bumped into him at a bar once so we're bffs.

With Split, Shyamalan sets a scene that is super unusual, and even if it's not super scary, I have to respect him for setting up a story that few people could pull off.

Split begins with three high school girls at the end of a birthday party. The birthday girl and her friend are in the process of begrudgingly giving their estranged classmate, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), a ride home when a stranger (James McAvoy) gets in their car. Drugging them and taking them to an undisclosed location, the man refuses to tell them anything about where they are or why they're there. But something is wrong with this man beyond his abductive tendencies. The next time they see him, the original tough guy that they dealt with has the mannerisms, high heels and clipped British accent of a middle-aged English woman. We soon learn through his sessions with therapist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley, who you might recognize from Carrie!) that this man, Kevin, has 24 separate personalities. In interacting with the girls, we are shown three of the personalities who aren't typically allowed to shine. The girls therefore need to do their best to use this to their advantage, and see if they can escape before the 24th personality, "The Beast," emerges.

Nbd.

I've gotta give Shyamalan credit for being a true auteur. Shyamalan's style is always 100% his own: that blend of human realism that borders on comedy, coupled with unsettling truths that are revealed to the characters until a final plot twist. He stays true to form with Split, though you might not expect the final flourish to his twist at the end.

What works: I think that the acting in this was pretty impressive. McAvoy does a splendid job as the multifaceted Kevin, bringing a convincing performance as each character, down to 9-year-old Hedwig (who is, for some reason, a boy and not a girl despite the name?). Anya Taylor-Joy did a good job as Casey as well, a character who has dark secrets that explain her quiet, isolated nature. Cinematography, as always, is lovely, and Philadelphia gets a nice little shout-out as each of its notable locations from the Art Museum to 30th St. Station are highlighted with loving care.

And of course this random street.

I think the story, too, is an interesting one, though it reminded me of all the objections that came up against the movie Lucy when that one came out. The film science argues that someone with Disassociative Identity Disorder (and THANK YOU M. Night for finally differentiating between this and schizophrenia) can mentally create conditions and traits that can manifest themselves physically. We revisit that whole argument, once again, that humans only access a portion of their brains, blah blah blah. But still, it taps into the suspicion that we're all stronger than we think we are, and the powers of belief and of trauma. What can your brain do to ensure your body's survival?

What doesn't work: as I mentioned earlier, Shyamalan has this amazing ability to bring humor to thriller, but it's almost to a fault with this movie. I'm not sure if the creep factor was lowered because I'd seen the trailers so many times or because the audience I saw it in kept laughing, but scenes that were supposed to make your hair stand on end had most people near me giggling. An unfortunate side effect of showcasing someone with DID is that sometimes the performance reads as a caricature, which tends to toe the line between creeptacular and just plain funny.

Though sometimes it is spectacularly creepy.

I also had a bit of impatience with this film (I know, act surprised). The present action is intersected with bits of Casey's brutal past, which are drug out presumably to explain why she reacts the way she does to certain situations. In some circumstances though it just drags the movie out. There are about six scenes that feature her childhood when there really only need to be three -- four, tops.

Another lost opportunity is the fact that this guy has 24 personalities -- 24 PERSONALITIES. And we only get to see four of them!? Talk about a wasted opportunity.

For fans of Shyamalan's previous movies, the ending might be an especial treat, but for this critic it mostly left me confused.

All in all, it's not a bad movie, and again I give Split points for originality. However, I walked into the theater thinking I was going to be scared and I wasn't, really. The film reads almost more as a mystery, as so many of his others do, but lacked a lot of the visceral fear that I was hoping to feel.

6 outa 10. No nightmares here, kids.