Down From the Shelf ~ Radio Days

The Facts:

Synopsis: A nostalgic look at radio’s golden age focusing on one ordinary family and the various performers in the medium.

Stars: Seth Green, Mia Farrow, Julie Kavner, Michael Tucker

Director: Woody Allen

Rated: PG

Running Length: 88 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Like the Cohen Bros, Allen seems to churn out movies with regularity but with a certain ‘hit or miss’ quality for me.  I think Allen of the 70’s was bit more successful but in the following decades he has had his share of good ideas that don’t necessarily make great movies.  Radio Days catches Allen in a nice streak having just come off the great success of Hannah and Her Sisters.  He’d follow this up with more somber fare for the next few years but what you get here is classic Allen in his best nostalgia mode.

I’ve always responded best to Allen’s films that take place in the past with elements of his own up bringing and memories sprinkled around.  Taking place in the early forties, Allen himself doesn’t appear in this one and lets Greene take on what has become known as the “Woody Allen role”.  Even at eight, Greene displayed a knack for the brand of smug delivery he’s mine later in his career.  As the youngest member of a large family that lives in the same apartment, the movie isn’t totally seen through his eyes but as more of an observance of how radio played an important part in his childhood.  With Kavner and Tucker working well as Greene’s lovingly squabbling parents, Allen creates some nice moments of familial relations that are framework for telling fanciful stories relating to the ‘radio days’ and the era they existed in.

Unfortunately, Allen was still with Farrow at this point and somehow felt the need to shoehorn a plot line for her that is totally separate from the central family that are infinitely more interesting than she is.  As a ditzy cigarette girl and wannabe radio star, Farrow isn’t really to blame here.  Her character is one part Lina Lamont from Singin’ in the Rain and two parts Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly’s character from Bullets Over Broadway).  It’s almost as if Allen had two scripts that he combined into one once he realized there wasn’t enough material for two different pictures.  It’s too bad that he didn’t take the time to flesh out both so they were full pictures independently.

Even with this strange juxtaposition of storylines, I found myself laughing a great deal and enjoying the ride back in time to a point in history where families ate their dinner to the sounds of big band music, women tuned in for radio dramas, and kids enjoyed the adventure heroes that always saved the day.  I wouldn’t call this a minor Allen film – it’s absolutely worth the watch.

Oh…and don’t forget to vote in my poll!

Movie Review ~ The Vow

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A car accident puts Paige in a coma, and when she wakes up with severe memory loss, her husband Leo works to win her heart again.

Stars: Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill, Jessica Lange, Scott Speedman

Director: Michael Sucsy

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 104 minutes

Random Crew Highlight:  Costume Cutter – Nancy Coulson-Dasilva

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  Are you familiar with the scene in many a movie that I refer to as the ‘Rock Star Parking’ scene?  You know what I’m talking about.  The lead actor/actress is shopping/dining in a busy part of town and they just happen to find a parking spot directly in front of the location they are headed.  They find this parking for no other reason than the movie dictates it.  It doesn’t further the plot, it doesn’t flesh out the characters.  It just happens.

That’s largely how one could describe The Vow after making it through nearly two hours of this “inspired by true events” movie showing people that don’t exist in reality.  That it’s inspired by true events bears no weight on any of the proceedings…a quick title card and picture at the end show us a couple that probably never imagined they would be played by actors such as Tatum and McAdams.

If we are to buy into movies like this we must be invested in our two leads and unfortunately McAdams and especially Tatum are nowhere near up to the task.  McAdams seems to be distracted (probably wishing she’d just made The Notebook 2 and closed the book on her romantic dramedy career) and Tatum is called on to act way more than his range allows him to.  It’s pretty bad when our lead actress has more sparks with her ex-fiancée (Speedman) than her husband that she can’t seem to remember after a well-filmed car wreck leaves her with amnesia.  If Speedman and Tatum had swapped roles we may have had a movie to talk about…but he’s left with a half baked character that is inserted into scenes when Tatum and McAdams need extra tension.

For a woman that just comes out of a serious car crash and head injury, McAdams is remarkably perky from the moment she opens her eyes.  I want to go to whatever hospital she was in if I’m ever in a head on collision (knock on wood) because aside from the whole amnesia business, she’s up and at ‘em in no time flat.  Tatum does a lot of pouting and posing as he grasps at struggling to realize that the earthy, free-spirited woman he fell in love with and married doesn’t know him or remember their life together.  McAdams misses some choice opportunity to give the character some journey to go on…instead she comes off as cold, callous, and unworthy of Tatum’s repeated attempts to help her memory.

Director Sucsy is helming his first theatrical motion picture after the nice success of the television movie of Grey Gardens.  He ports over Lange from that film and it seems he didn’t give her time to take off the majority of her Big Edie make-up.  I love Lange (she deserves every accolade for her tremendous work in FX’s American Horror Story) but here she looks pretty frightening.  She’s playing against type here in a role that’s fairly beneath her.  Neil brings zilch to the table and appears to be wishing he had a dinosaur or two to climb on.  The rest of the cast is littered with forgettable people playing Tatum and McAdams friends and family…one only wishes we could forget most of their earnest “look at me, Ma, I’m in a movie” performances.  The only standout is Tatiana Maslany who turns in the single performance with any sort of authenticity as a business partner of Tatum’s.

Releasing just in time for Valentine’s Day I’m sure this film will attract devotees of romantic flicks and their boyfriends.  With so many better choices out there, it would be a shame to plunk your money down for a weak effort like this.  Choose another film and let that unspool as this one (hopefully) fades from movie cinema memories.

Movie Review ~ A Dangerous Method

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A look at how the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud gives birth to psychoanalysis.

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightly, Vincent Cassel

Director: David Cronenberg

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

Random Crew Highlight:  Glazier – Georg Schneider

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: At the center of Cronenberg’s newest film is the curious rivalry between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.  On the outskirts is another tale of the relationship between Jung and a female patient and how she becomes the catalyst that drives a wedge between the two men and their fundamental beliefs.  Cronenberg has given us a handsome film with attention to period and detail but that is ultimately light on narrative and purpose.

The problem right off the bat is the casting of Knightly as Sabina Spielrein.  The character, as written by Christopher Hampton adapting his play which was itself adapted from a book, starts off howling and carrying on as she’s brought in for treatment with Jung.  Knightly is not up to the challenge of playing Spielrein and puts forward an interpretation of a hysteric that’s as unbelievable as her Russian accent.   For the first thirty minutes or so, these scenes of her hysteria are nearly unwatchable and you pray to see a nurse prepare a good sedative for her.  Alas, she’s left to shudder, scream, stick her jaw out, bug her eyes, and speak in fractured sentences.  It’s a performance that is out of place here…even taking into consideration the mental illness being discussed.

Thankfully, she’s calms down as the movie progresses and shares the bulk of her scenes with Fassbender who only makes her better.  Fassbender plays a less tortured version of the character he plays in Shame but both share sexual issues that threaten to destroy everything they’ve built up.  What he does here is give us a conflicted Jung but neither he nor Knightly generate any heat to give the audience reason to believe they have passion for each other.   I never understood why he was drawn to her or continued indulging her obsessive ways.

Mortenson, wearing Nicole Kidman’s fake nose from The Hours, is understated to the point of boredom.  I’m pretty sure Frued was at least a little less somber than how Mortenson plays him.  A true supporting character, his discussions with Jung are interesting and revealing but he too struggles with connecting to the material enough to give his trajectory great weight.  The working relationship/friendship Frued had with Jung always had a bitter edge and we don’t get that here.

Perhaps this is just an overly sophisticated movie at the end of the day.  Cronenberg is clearly interested in the vices that make people have but hide and he’s not one to shy away from taboo material.  There is darkness here but it’s conducted in the natural light of an office setting rather than in the dark corners of a bedroom.  The film is at its best when it digs under the surface to the unknown meaning of dreams and unattained desires but once is ventures into the known world it becomes talky, stagnant, and uninvolving.  I can’t help but wonder if Knightly wasn’t the catalyst for this film much like her character was for Jung and Frued.  With a different actress in her role the film may have taken off rather than just taxing the runway.