Movie Review ~ The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, William H. Macy, Werner Herzog, Mae Whitman, Jennifer Grey, Darren Criss, Elijah Wood, Ronan Farrow

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 126 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: After all these years of going to the movies it took The Wind Rises to finally get me to ask myself the question…can you truly appreciate a movie and not wholly like it?  If so, then legendary Oscar winning animator (and driving force behind Japan’s animation juggernaut Studio Ghibli) Hayao Miyazaki has wrapped up his storied career with a highly respectable and deeply personal tale that’s free of the whimsy of fantasia found in his early work and one that’s more grounded in historical reality.

Though the film is a highly fictionalized work, its central character Jiro Horikoshi was no figment of Miyazaki’s imagination.  Known today for creating the Zero fighter plane, Horikoshi served as chief engineer of many of Japans fighter planes during World War II.  Miyazaki takes the idea of the character of Horikoshi and his life’s work and fashions a biographical tale that has its share of moments that soar into the heavens but more often than not feels too earth bound.

A story that could have (and should have?  and will?) be told as a live-action film, it falls victim to the Miyazaki style of animation favors featureless characters that unfortunately all start to blend together after a while.  Even the animals have odd human-like faces that are more than a tad off-putting for a picture that seems to resist going for a mythical element as is found in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro

Yet even though Miyazaki is going for something more naturalistic, he finds ways to let his imagination run wild such as in the sequences of Horikoshi’s dreams that find him commiserating with Carponi, an Italian aeronautical architect who conjured up some awe-inspiring designs for the future of travel.  Accompanied by a soundtrack made up of human voices that stand in for an orchestra or sound effects, these passages may be cool to the touch but are warm in spirit.

Between earthquakes, sickness, the threat of war, and a love affair with a girl from his past, Horikoshi’s story is revealed in metered bits that somehow manage not to feel choppy or overly episodic.  As with most of Miyazaki’s work, the film runs over two hours and this one feels like it…so I could have done with the film clocking in twenty minutes shorter.  Even so, the value of seeing the final work of Japan’s master makes it worth the extra time in your seat.

Nominated for Best Animated Film at the 2014 Oscars, several theaters will be showing The Wind Rises in its original subtitled version or in a dubbed edition for those that are averse to hearing a film in its native tongue.  I saw the film with the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon), Emily Blunt (The Five Year Engagement), John Krasinski (Promised Land, Big Miracle), Martin Short (Frankenweenie), Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), and Darren Criss (Girl Most Likely), though none of the Hollywood voices add much to the mix.

A work to be respected, I’m still not sure if I truly liked the film.  It’s slow and a bit of a slog to get through.  Still, like walking through a museum of fine art, I came out of the screening appreciative to have taken the journey.

Movie Review ~ Non-Stop

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The Facts
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Synopsis: An air marshal springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account.

Stars: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Nate Parker, Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o, Linus Roache, Corey Stoll

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 106 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m that weird duck traveler that loves to head off for an adventure but dreads the flight that will take me to my destination.  I don’t know why I have this irrational fear of flying and though I’m not someone that white knuckles it from wheels up to wheels down let’s just say that the sooner I’m back on solid ground the better.   

All that aside, can I just tell you how much I enjoy a thriller that involves any sort of in-flight dilemma?  I’m sure the root of some of my fears has come from seeing various maladies befall passengers in the Airport films and the hostile takeovers of Flightplan, Executive Decision, Passenger 57, Turbulence, et. al.  Though flying is the safest way to travel it can be the most dangerous when you toss in an action star like Liam Neeson looking for a killer on a transatlantic flight.

Let’s get this straight…Non-Stop is exactly the quality of film that you think it is.  It’s all muscle with little logic available to explain away large leaps of faith that it asks the audience to just go with.  And y’know what…for the most part it works well as a short fused thrill ride that gets you cruising along nicely up at 40,000 feet before encountering some midflight turbulence in anticipation of a watery landing.

Neeson (The Grey, The LEGO Movie) doesn’t have to stretch much to play a weary air marshal first class-ing it on a plane bound for London.  The film opens by letting us know there’s more than a few red herrings that will be joining him as each person he passes in the airport somehow manages to turn slllloooowwwlllly around with a grimace on their face.  For all we know, the entire plane is full of psychopaths.

Though he’s seated next to a kinda quirky kinda mysterious female (Julianne Moore, Carrie) and doted on by a lovely trolley dolly (Michelle Dockery, showing she’s capable of more than merely looking glum on Downton Abbey) his attention turns to the mysterious in-flight texts he receives from a passenger threatening to trim the flight manifest every twenty minutes until a payload of 150 million dollars is delivered…to a bank account in Neeson’s name.

So begins an in flight cat and mouse game that gets less interesting the more implausible it gets.  Non-Stop shows early promise with its slow burn first half but winds up flaming out long before the end is near.  And that’s too bad because had it capitalized more on the Hitchcockian mystery it aspired to it may have been a film that would be worth repeat viewings. 

Director Jaume Collet-Serra has been behind the camera for several flawed but interesting thrillers in his short career.  After the guilty pleasure House of Wax he scored nicely with the creep-fest Orphan before scaring us even more by casting the awful January Jones alongside Neeson in the marginal UnknownNon-Stop is more middle of the road work and wind up being best known for wasting 12 Years a Slave star Lupita Nyong’o in a throwaway role – though she does rock some serious Fresh Price of Bel Air meets Grace Jones afro realness. 

If you’re willing to check your logic in the overhead bin and keep your rolled eyes in the upright position, Non-Stop is harmless entertainment.

Movie Review ~ The 2014 Oscar Nominated Short Films – Animation

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Oscar Nominated Short Films…anyone that has ever done an office Oscar pool is familiar with these categories.  These are the nominees with names of films you’ve never heard of and if you’re like me you usually pick the one that sounds the most Oscar-y or the one with the craziest title.  For the past few years, the Academy has been packaging these films and presenting them in theaters or for download online to give audiences a chance to see these and maybe make more than a blind guess.

Below are my mini reviews of the five animated short film nominees for 2014.

Get a Horse!
Originally shown before Disney’s megahit (and Oscar nominated) Frozen, Get a Horse! begins like a Disney cartoon from the early days.  The black and white and old-school design for Mickey, Minnie, and other assorted stalwarts gives way to a color romp that very nearly leaps off the screen.  It’s a nice little cartoon but one that you realize worked better in 3D which is how I originally saw it.  Without that extra depth it seemed flatter and less inventive because it was clearly designed to play as a 3D short.  Still, the House of Mouse knows how to construct a cartoon that has a rhythm and vitality no studio has been able to duplicate.

Mr. Hublot
When this Luxembourg/France co-production started I wasn’t sure that I was going to enjoy its steam punk design and overly busy animation style.  Yet gradually the film won me over with its story about a silent OCD mechanized man that takes in a stray junkyard mutt made out of pieces you’d find at a, well, junkyard.  Their burgeoning friendship provides little overall surprise but it’s so genuine that you can’t help feel your heart grow right along with the lovable mutt and his owner.

Feral
An interesting animation style using cutouts provides the true artistry of this nominee that follows a feral child being caught in the woods and instilled into an uppercrust society.  Though it has the same through line as Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, the short has something that mid 80’s film didn’t…the ability to keep our interest.  I wasn’t enamored with it, if I’m being honest, but there’s something decidedly spot-on about the way the filmmakers draw comparison to the wilds of the forest and the bewildering confusion of a growing urban society.

Possessions
Arriving from Japan is this not for the kiddos short centered on a man traversing through a storm that seeks shelter in an abandoned shrine.  He doesn’t know it, but what he thinks is a safe haven is really home to discarded objects with a life of their own.  Strangely wonderful with several moments that made the hair on the back on my neck stand on end, this is a roughly animated affair using Japanese mythology as its framework.  It’s probably the one short I’d have asked to watch again to catch more of the detail the director included.

Room on the Broom
From the creators of the 2011 Oscar nominee The Gruffalo comes this adaptation of a children’s picture book about a witch, her cat, and several new friends they meet along the way.  Even if I didn’t know it was adapted from a child’s book its repetitive structure would have clued me in down to the very moment when the pages would have been turned.  Featuring the voices of Simon Pegg (The World’s End) and Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), among others, the stop-motion animation is gorgeous but the film runs way too long, longer than the other four nominees combined.  If the film had tightened up a bit I think it could have shaved five minutes off and still been as effective.

The following films were added to pad the running length of the program and classified as Highly Regarded (meaning, close but no cigar to being nominated themselves)

À la française
It’s hard to believe this buoyant and crystalline entry from France didn’t make the cut.  Set at the palace in Versailles during the Marie Antoinette days, this was my absolute favorite short of the entire program.  Hens and roosters play all the roles, complete with fancy dresses, waistcoats, and wigs.  Hysterically funny and incredibly wacky, I’ve sought out the film on YouTube and watched it several times since.  Too bad this wasn’t one of the five nominees; it would have had my vote.

The Missing Scarf
Arriving after the sunny À la française, The Missing Scarf turns the happy happy joy joy of animation on its head as it follows a origami styled squirrel looking for his favorite scarf and helping his forest friends along the way.  Narrated by George Takai, the film ends with a wham-bam of melancholy that I didn’t expect.  This Irish production wins points for a fabulous color palette and crisp animation but is likely to inspire nightmares in younger children.

The Blue Umbrella
In past years, you can almost guarantee that a PIXAR short would make the cut for the top five Oscar nominees but this entry (shown before Monsters University) didn’t find itself onto the ballot.  In a way, I can see why.  It’s not your traditional PIXAR looking animation (which isn’t a bad thing) but the story doesn’t hold water.  Two umbrellas meet in a rainstorm but are kept apart by chance…until various other city objects help them back together again.  It has elements of last year’s Oscar winner, Paperman and a plot (and colors) lifted almost directly from Disney’s own Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet classic short.  Still, it may be my least favorite short that PIXAR has produced.

The Silver Bullet ~ Godzilla (2014) Trailer #2

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Synopsis: A giant radioactive monsters called Godzilla appears to wreak destruction on mankind.

Release Date:  May 16, 2014

Thoughts: Even after the impressive teaser trailer for Warner Bros. big (like really big) budget reboot of Godzilla I remained a tad skeptical.  Sure, the preview was edited in such a fashion that kept the title character a mystery until the final shadowy moments but would the movie just be effects-heavy rehash of the famously goofy Godzilla films of the past?  Well, the second trailer has arrived and it stirs a greater excitement in this viewer, suggesting an edge of your seat sci-fi action epic as much about the radioactive beast as it is about the havoc he leaves in his wake.  Roaring onto the screen at the start of a busy 2014 summer season, Godzilla is quickly moving to highly anticipated status in my little black book.

Movie Review ~ In Secret (Thérèse)

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Set in the lower echelons of 1860s Paris, a sexually repressed young woman is trapped into a loveless marriage to her sickly cousin by her domineering aunt. After meeting her husband’s alluring friend she embarks on an illicit affair that leads to tragic consequences.

Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange, Oscar Isaac, Shirley Henderson, John Kavanagh, Mackenzie Crook, Matt Lucas

Director: Charlie Stratton

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

ReviewIn Secret is one of the small films that would be quite easy to miss at a better time of year.  These being the waning winter months before the Oscars are announced and the push for the summer blockbusters begins, however, the field is a bit more open with much less to recommend than movie studios would wish.  That’s why In Secret is such an interesting find, a dark drama chock full of shadows and struggles which grew on me more than I thought it ever would.

Based on Émile Zola’s 1867 novel Thérèse Raquin that no doubt inspired countless modern films about unhappy wives that get rid of their husbands with the help of a well-coiffed lover, In Secret boasts superior production values and performances from the top down.  Writer/director Charlie Stratton labored for years to get his vision on screen and the wait was worth it.

Having starred in the similarly themed steamy erotic thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice, Jessica Lange (Cape Fear) graduates from femme fatale to grand dame as a smother mother who takes in her young niece and raises her alongside (and in servitude to) her only son, the sickly Camille (Tom Felton, The Apparition).  From early on we can see that Therese (a stilted but better than usual Elizabeth Olsen, Oldboy) longs for something better and is pretty sure she deserves it too.  She’s not your typical schemer but seizes opportunities when they are presented to her…an opportunist.

Moving with her aunt and cousin turned husband from the slow pace countryside to a dingy street in Paris where Lange opens a shop, Therese sees her chance for freedom in Camille’s friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis).  A temperature rising seduction begins between the two, leading to a day on the lake for Therese, Camille, and Laurent that turns tragic.

What happens next could have been the same fodder as any number of tangled thrillers, but Stratton wisely keeps the event off screen, leaving the audience to be as in the dark to what actually happened as certain central characters are.  That gives him room to explore the aftermath it has on everyone and how the lust that turned to love quickly morphs into something darker and more frightening.

What helps In Secret along are not only the strong performances of Lange (especially after she’s rendered mute) and Isaac but in Stratton’s fleshing out of a small group of Parisians that Lange and family called friends.  An oddball mix of rude mechanical-like figures, they inject a dose of wry humor (not comedy) into the latter half of the movie that saves it from trolling the bottom of the Seine.

Playing in limited release, more people will (unfortunately) probably see Pompeii on its first day than will see this in its entire run…but it’s worth considering over any number of films that are landing in the Top 10 the next few weekends.

Movie Review ~ Pompeii

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A slave-turned-gladiator finds himself in a race against time to save his true love, who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts, he must fight to save his beloved as Pompeii crumbles around him.

Stars: Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris, Kiefer Sutherland

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  I remember reading reviews of Titanic back in 1997 when it was first released and thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, but what about when the boat sinks?’  James Cameron’s Oscar winning film benefited from the introduction of characters, plot, effects, and ideas that culminated in the famous sinking of the titular ocean liner which made it more than just a soggy retread of the popular disaster pictures of the 70’s.  As a high school student still finding my critical legs, all I cared about was how the boat looked when it was sinking.

I mention Titanic because the makers of Pompeii clearly hatched their notion to retell the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius during a screening of Titanic when it was re-released in 3D a few years back.  So instead of this being an all out disaster epic, it’s less about the lava and more about the love…and more’s the pity because even a trio of screenwriters can’t muster up a decent bit of dialogue that would help the audience pick someone, anyone, to root for.  Yeah, you say, but what about the volcano?

I’ll get to it…trust me.

Opening with a factual quote from Pliny the Younger who had a firsthand account of the volcanic event, it’s pretty much fiction for the remainder of the film.  A young boy is orphaned at the hand of a cruel Roman soldier (Kiefer Sutherland, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Flatliners) and raised in slavery, becoming a gladiator along the way.  So good at his craft that he’s brought to Pompeii to fight top gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Thor: The Dark World) he has the misfortune to arrive not only at the very moment Vesuvius cracks open but also to fall in love with a member of Pompeii’s upper crust (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch).  Ok, you say, good to know…but what about that volcano?

Getting there…

For the next hour there’s a lot of speechifying by braggadocios, both political and civilian, none of which has the least to do with the fate that awaits nearly everyone within Pompeii’s walls and harbor villages.  The love story is paper thin and too much time is spent introducing secondary characters that are merely there to push our leads out of the way of falling rocks before meeting their ends shortly thereafter.  Ah, you say, I understand…but what about the acting?

Wait, what?  The acting?  Well…I was just getting to that…

Browning comes off the best of the bunch…though here is another movie set in an Italian speaking country where everyone has (or attempts to have) a British accent.  Harington impresses solely on his first entrance, exiting the shadows and preceded by his eight pack abs which is probably why the film is being released in 3D.  Jared Harris (Lincoln) and Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) are wet noodles as Browning’s parents and poor Jessica Lucas (That Awkward Moment, Evil Dead) is barely an afterthought.  Sutherland makes zero effort to do anything special here…which is too bad because he’s a more than capable of playing a nasty bad guy.  Between his non period Jack Bauer haircut and UK accent by way of Billings, Montana (when he bothers to use one at all), he’s incredibly miscast here.

So the volcano…

It erupts pretty spectacularly and provides several opportunities for actors to outrun fireballs, tidal waves, and clouds of ash…but not the inevitable.   The volcano blowing its top is kinda worth the wait and kinda not because so much filler has weighed the film down before its arrival.  It’s the best visual effect in the film, with other moments coming off with badly rendered CGI.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson has four Resident Evil films under his belt as well as a host of other bombastic films with a sci-fi slant (Event Horizon is a guilty pleasure of mine) so he’d seem a natural choice to helm a disaster epic…but he merely moves the pieces around without ever bringing them together in a memorable way.  Pompeii isn’t a total wash of a film but, like the city of its title, it’s gone in an instant.

The Silver Bullet ~ Guardians of the Galaxy

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Synopsis: In the far reaches of space, an American pilot named Peter Quill finds himself the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan.

Release Date:  August 1, 2014

Thoughts: I should start out by saying that I’m totally familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy comic and all of the characters introduced within.  Teased first at the end of Thor: The Dark World, the full trailer for Marvel’s latest “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here” film has an awful lot of impressive looking images that we’ve come to expect from an effects driven superhero film.  What I find it’s lacking, however, is some justification for being so tonally blasé.  It’s seems preciously desperate to come across with the same structured sarcasm as Marvel’s The Avengers even though that blockbuster already earned its stripes by bringing characters together already established in solo films.  With a meaty cast like Chris Pratt (Her), Zoe Saldana (Out of the Furnace), Lee Pace (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), and Vin Diesel (Riddick) on board the film isn’t lacking in star power…I just hope it’s not nearly as comic-booky as it looks.

Movie Review ~ Winter’s Tale

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A burglar falls for an heiress as she dies in his arms. When he learns that he has the gift of reincarnation, he sets out to save her

Stars: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint, Russell Crowe, Ripley Sobo, Mckayla Twiggs

Director: Akiva Goldsman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Oscar nominated director Martin Scorsese (Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street, Cape Fear) isn’t known to shy away from many projects.  This is a man, after all, that took a novel like Shutter Island which was considered to be impossible to adapt for the screen and made a perfectly good (if strikingly literal) thriller out of it.  So you should pay attention when you hear that Scorsese flirted briefly with bringing Winter’s Tale, Mark Helperin’s 1983 fantasy novel, to life only to abandon the project because he couldn’t figure out a way to make it work.

The project then fell into the hands of Akiva Goldsman, the Oscar winning screenwriter of A Beautiful Mind who took on the work as a passion project.  Laboring for years to have his screenplay produced, he finally found himself in the director’s chair surrounding by a fairly impressive cast and a celebrated production team.  How, then, can the final product be so remarkably terrible?

Well…I’ll direct you back to Mr. Scorsese who had the correct premonition that this time jumping epic love story wasn’t destined to be captured on film.  It existed best in the yellowing pages of paperback copies of Helperin’s novel stuffed away on bookshelves waiting for their owners to thumb through them in the doldrums of these wintery months.

My experience with the book is limited, having paged through it a few times over the years but never being sucked in by its storied charms.  It’s essentially a bit of romantic whimsy with prose that helped inspire some imagination of the people, places, and flights of fancy Helperin laid out.  I can’t speak to how close Goldsman’s adaptation sticks to the source but I know that something was absolutely lost in translation.

Opening with a prologue filmed in lovely sepia tones by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (Killer Joe, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Jack Reacher), the story begins in the late 19th century with Polish immigrants denied entrance to America who wind up lowering their infant son in a model boat in the hopes that the harsh waters will see him safely to the shores of New York.  Ah…the American Dream!  Flash forward years later and the orphaned boy is now Peter Lake (Colin Farrell, Saving Mr. Banks, Dead Man Down), a burglar on the wrong side of gangster and former father figure Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, Les Miserables, Man of Steel) ready to make an escape out of the city.

Before he can reach the city limits, however, he happens to make one last burglary in the stately Penn home where he meets Beverly (Jessica Brown-Findlay, Downton Abbey), a doomed beauty suffering from consumption with a fever so bad she sleeps on the wintery roof to keep her temperature down.  Love blooms (not naturally because Farrell and Brown-Findlay have precious little chemistry) and soon Peter and Beverly are overcome with passion that leads to a bad end.  Oh…did I mention the film has angels, demons, flying horses, and mythical prophecies?  Well…there’s that too.

I’m giving you more of the plot than I normally would because it helps set the stage for the next act of the film which takes such a peculiar leap forward that you wonder if you aren’t watching a three part mini-series that forgot to include the second installment.  So much of the film takes place in establishing the past that next to no time is left to explore anything in present day New York.  The third act is comprised then of extraordinary coincidences, unexplained lapses in continuity, and half-developed characters (like the one poor Jennifer Connelly is stuck with) culminating in a cornball ending more laughable than the emotionally resonant one the filmmakers intended.

Farrell makes for an engaging lead, though his lack of chemistry with his leading lady and the oddity of his American born/raised character having a perfect Irish accent leaves more of a lasting impression than any good will his commitment earns him.  Crowe is particularly terrible here with his awful leprechaun-y brogue…his scenes with a surprise cameo (and equally atrocious) star is sure to haunt him in years to come.  Brown-Findlay doesn’t leave much of an impression aside from the realization that her narration of the film is better than her onscreen performance.  William Hurt (The Host), Connelly (who will also do time with Crowe soon in Noah), and Eva Marie Saint (make sure to do the math of her screen age when she shows up and see if you cry foul) round out the players.

Running close to two hours I will say that as banal as the film is, it managed to move along with a nice clip.  Goldsman rallies the production design to create a handsome looking film (even with one of the worst Hans Zimmer scores ever) though he lets the whole schmaltzy mess get away from him almost from the start.  If you’re thinking of catching this with a loved one, I’d suggest taking a walk around the block holding hands instead.

Movie Review ~ Endless Love (2014)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of a privileged girl and a charismatic boy whose instant desire sparks a love affair made only more reckless by parents trying to keep them apart.

Stars: Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde, Robert Patrick, Bruce Greenwood, Rhys Wakefield, Dayo Okeniyi, Emma Rigby, Joely Richardson

Director: Shana Feste

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 103 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: My first impression of this remake of 1981’s Endless Love was not positive.  It’s formulaic construction, slightly above average performances, and treacley love story wasn’t anything to write home about even if it did get the job done if you were to step back and look at its target audience.  Then I did my homework and watched the awful original film and skimmed the book it was adapted from.  Now, not only do I find myself giving the film a higher rating than I would have but also can’t help but recommend it to those looking for a movie to go along with the Valentine’s Day weekend ahead.

Make no mistake about it…this is a film that’s quite aware of its customer and does everything in the book to give them their money’s worth.  You’ve got two gorgeous leads made up of nimble limbs extending from toned figures with great hair and just the right amount of perspiration with fleeting glimpses of the kind of chemistry so vacant from “romance” films created from market research.  Throw in some drama about true love being kept apart and a production/costume design that would make white-washed director Nancy Myers (The Holiday, It’s Complicated) drool and it’s nearly a license to print date-movie money.

Of course, to really enjoy this you’ll have to overlook the flaws that follow the film around like an unwanted stalker.  Though the film is removed enough from the source material that the author of the 1979 novel isn’t even mentioned (it’s Scott Spencer by the way) it still retains the names and certain plot developments.

Instead of love being in full bloom at the beginning, Jade (Gabriella Wilde, maybe the best thing in the recent remake of Carrie) and David (Alex Pettyfer, maybe the worst thing in 2012’s Magic Mike) aren’t even acquaintances at the start of the film.  Blue collar David pines for upper-crust Jade but it takes a chance encounter at Jade’s country club for valet David to get into her eye line.  From there, as the tagline of the film states, Say Goodbye to Innocence.

The infamous scene from the original which found Jade’s mother watching her daughter and David make love in front of a fireplace with googly eyes is thankfully nowhere to be found…though a fireplace does play into the eventual coupling.  Instead of it being David against the family, the film is more focused on how Jade’s father (an always dependable Bruce Greenwood, Flight, Devil’s Knot) takes issue with his medical-school bound daughter risking her future on a boy with none to speak of.

I always get a little squirmy with the whole “Dad Doesn’t Like Boyfriend, Prefers to Keep Daughter a Child Forever” arcs because it seems a little pervish to me.  Director/screenwriter Shana Feste (Country Strong) does us a solid and doesn’t bother hammering this point home…but this odd obsession with his daughter’s romantic relationship hangs in the air longer than necessary.

For a movie set in the heat of a Georgia summer, it has a remarkable amount of foreign actors doing their darndest to hide their accents to varying degrees of success.  Of the eight top billed stars, only one is American (Robert Patrick as David’s mechanic father) and the rest find themselves struggling with putting a southern twist on the dialogue.  Joely Richardson (also appearing now in the dreadful Vampire Academy) seems to want to do something more with her character but can’t find a way to rise above an underwritten role.  The less said about supporting players Rhys Wakefield (The Purge), obnoxious Dayo Okeniyi, and especially puffer lipped Emma Rigby, the better.

Even though this has its fair share of eye-rolls at the non-problems that somehow become major issues, when all is said and done credit must be given to Feste and company for putting a spit-shine on what could have been a real slog of a film.  It’s light years better than the tawdry trash of the original and works almost in spite of itself.  Recommended for those who are accustomed to easily shrugging off watching a Lifetime movie on a rainy Sunday.

 

Down From the Shelf ~ Endless Love (1981)

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A high school student’s love for a 15-year-old girl is thwarted by circumstance and accident.

Stars: Brooke Shields, Martin Hewitt, Shirley Knight, Don Murray, Richard Kiley, Beatrice Straight, Tom Cruise, James Spader, Ian Ziering

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Rated: R

Running Length: 116 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: I wanted to turn off Endless Love about eight times…I know it was eight times because the feeling to flee reached its tipping point at regular fifteen minute intervals.  At a mind-numbing two hours, this drama from 1981 directed by Franco Zeffirelli was critically reviled but a head-scratcher of a box office hit.

Adapted (loosely) from Scott Spencer’s 1979 novel, this honest-to-god turkey is now best remembered for the Oscar nominated title song and its presence in movie trivia as the screen debut of Tom Cruise. Cruise appears on screen for all of three minutes as a teenage arsonist in the kind of short shorts that are only excused because early 80’s fashion really didn’t know any better.  Still, the jean cutoffs worn by Cruise are the least offensive thing in this tawdry tale of young love.

The film opens with a teenage love affair between a 15 year old (Brooke Shields) and a 17 year old (Martin Hewitt) in full swing.  The son of a typical suburban couple (Richard Kiley and Beatrice Straight), he’s considered part of Sheilds’ family too (headed by Don Murray and Shirley Knight)…by all accounts there seems to be peace in the world.  Then Hewitt and Shields decide to go all the way one night by a crackling fireplace and Knight catches them…but instead of breaking them apart she gazes lasciviously at their naked intertwined figures in the kind of way that you just know things are going to change.

Though Zeffirelli tries to give the passion between Hewitt and Shields the same kind of heat he infused into his 1968 take on Romeo and Juliet, he’s stymied by neither star having the charisma or chemistry to ignite any sort of spark.  Shields is lovely, no question, but her acting leaves much to be desired whereas Hewitt navigates some appalling dialogue and plot developments while being tasked with showing the most flesh (his tiny buns get nearly as much screen time as Knight’s various flowing mumus).  When the two kiss, it’s akin to a child pushing Barbie and Ken’s faces together…just a smushing of lips and not much else.

For some reason not fully explained, when sex is introduced it suddenly makes Hewitt persona non grata in the life of his girlfriend and their relationship hits the skids.  The rest of the film follows Hewitt as he tries to get her back over several years, with a few ridiculously timed tangents explored along the way.

Most embarrassing about this film is the way that well respected (and in some cases Oscar winning!) actors like Knight, Murray, Kiley, and Straight slum it up in such a seedy exercise.  All four say the lines and go through the motions but Straight especially looks sickened to be participating here.

The production design is evocative of gauzy 80’s Summer’s Eve commercials, creating pretty pictures with zero depth to them.  It’s a laborious affair to get through and a blast from the past you’ll wish you can blast into space.  I saw this after I saw the remake…and trust me when I say that this movie makes the so-so remake look like The Bridge on the River Kwai in comparison.