Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Purple Violets (2007) [UR] ***



Patti (Selma Blair) is a brilliant writer who hasn't published in ten years, is selling real estate to try to make some money, and is stuck in a failed marriage to Chazz (Donal Logue) a chef who doesn't have a literary bone in his body. Kate (Debra Messing) is a school teacher who, years earlier, dumped her boyfriend Murphy (Edward Burns) now a successful attorney, because she thought he had cheated on her. And Brian (Patrick Wilson), Murphy's best friend and Patti's old college boyfriend, is a wildly successful pulp-fiction crime novelist who is trying his hand at writing serious literature.

One evening, twelve years after college, Patti and Kate are having dinner together, when who should come into the restaurant but Murphy, Brian, and Brian's current girlfriend, twenty-something, loud and abrasive Bernadette (Elizabeth Reaser). This accidental meeting is the catalyst for Patti to realize that she's always loved Brian, and she's got to get out of her dead-end marriage; and for Murphy to realize that he's always loved Kate and he's got to try to get her back.

This finely-crafted, romantic drama successfully weaves the joy and anticipation of two growing relationships with the frustration and heartache of two disintegrating relationships. Edward Burns' screenplay is taut and smoothly-paced, with internally-consistent characters and believable dialogue. The cast does an excellent job, especially Selma Blair and Patrick Wilson as two writers who each doubt their own talent, and who are afraid to reach out for love. If you enjoy Edward Burns' films, especially She’s the One, Sidewalks of New York, and Life or Something Like It, and if you enjoyed Bed of Roses, I predict you will really enjoy Purple Violets

Labels: comedy, drama, romance

Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=NA, viewers=61)

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Secret (Si j'étais toi) (2007) [R] ***



Set in Williamstown, a small town in the northwest corner of Massachusetts, this is the strange story of Dr. Ben Marris, his wife and their teenage daughter. Ben (David Duchovny) is an optometrist, and his wife Hannah (Lili Taylor) is a housewife. Both of them have been struggling to understand and communicate with their rebellious daughter Samantha (Olivia Thirlby) who's an excellent high school student but has begun experimenting with alcohol, drugs and sex. One day Hanna and Samantha get into an argument while Hannah is driving the car, there's a terrible accident and both end up side-by-side in intensive care, clinging to life. As Ben watches, Samantha starts to slip away. Desperately, Hannah reaches out to her daughter, holding her wrist tightly, and both mother and daughter seem to die at the same moment. But Samantha still has a pulse and when she awakens in the recovery room she has all of her mother's memories, personality and behavioral traits, and none of her own.

At first Ben tries to deny what has happened, but gradually he grows convinced that he's living with his wife Hannah in the body of his daughter Samantha. Reluctantly, Hannah returns to high school and by connecting with Samantha's friends, and reading her journal, she begins to discover her daughter. And then the questions come tumbling forth. If Hannah is possessing Samantha's body, where is Samantha's spirit? Will Samantha's spirit ever return to claim her body, and what will happen to Hannah's spirit? Can Hannah really pretend to be her own daughter? What will Ben and Hannah's relationship be like in the privacy of their home? Will they be able to keep this a secret? Can Ben ever live a normal life again?

This is a romantic drama with a mysterious, supernatural quality; it's mildly suspenseful, but definitely not a thriller or a horror film. To the extent that we believe what Ben and Hannah/Samantha are experiencing, the film is quite successful. To its credit, the screenplay treads lightly when dealing with the sexual tension between the two, or the possibility that a third person might discover their secret and have to be told the truth. David Duchovny is an accomplished actor, but this is Olivia Thirlby's film and she is excellent, convincingly playing both mother and daughter in a single body (Si j'étais toi, the film's alternate French title, translates as If I were you). This is a thought-provoking film, as any mother with a teenage daughter can attest. If you enjoyed Peggy Sue Got Married, then I believe you will enjoy The Secret


Labels: drama, fantasy, mystery, romance, tragedy

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Music and Lyrics (2007) [PG-13] ****



Composer Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) was a member of the 1980s hit singing group PoP! After the band broke up, Alex released a solo album, but he was not a strong lyricist, and so his album flopped. Now, twenty years later, he's been reduced to performing at high school reunions and amusement parks, but even these gigs are drying up.

Then his manager brings him an opportunity to write a new hit song for rising young pop star Cora Corman (Haley Bennett), and sing the song with Cora at her upcoming concert at Madison Square Garden. But, Alex only has a week, and he doesn't have a lyricist until Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), the girl who waters his plants, shows a natural ability to write lyrics. Sadly Sophie lacks self-esteem; she fell in love with a best-selling novelist (Campbell Scott) who turned her into a title character - a failed young author and manipulative seductress.

Alex convinces Sophie that he needs her, and that she can do it; their new song Way Back Into Love is beautiful. But Sophie feels Cora's arrangement corrupts the song's purity, and when she can't write the final verse, Alex, in a fit of pique, accuses her of being a failure, just as the novel describes her, and Sophie is crushed.

The film has a clear, if predictable, story arc - boy finds girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. The soundtrack is memorable and a pivotal scene in the film occurs during Cora's concert, when Alex sings his newly written ballad Don't Write Me Off as an extraordinary gesture to win Sophie back. Supporting characters Kristen Johnston as Sophie's older sister, and Brad Garrett as Alex's manager, are excellent; both have incredible comedic timing and provide great balance to Grant and Barrymore's terrific romantic chemistry and their surprisingly good vocals. This is a heart-warming, happy-ending romantic comedy that will have you smiling. If you enjoyed Two Weeks Notice, also written and directed by Marc Lawrence, I predict you'll love Music and Lyrics. 

Labels: comedy, music, romance     
Internet Movie Database     
Metacritic 59/100     
Tomatometer (critics=63, viewers=70)     
Blu-ray

August Rush (2007) [PG] **



Lyla (Keri Russell) a concert cellist, and Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) lead singer in a rock band, meet at a party following their New York City performances. After a night under the stars, the young lovers lose contact when Lyla's domineering father whisks her out of the city.

Eight months later, back in the city, a very pregnant Lyla is hit by a car while fleeing from an argument with her father. She wakes up in the hospital to hear him tell her she's lost Louis' baby, but she harbors doubts. Eleven years later we meet Evan (Freddie Highmore), a child living in an upstate NY orphanage. He has an incredible gift; he hears music in everything... from wind chimes to high tension wires. He knows that someday his mother and father will find him, and that playing beautiful music is the way he will draw them to him.

Escaping from the orphanage, Evan wanders the city until he falls under the influence of a Dickensian Fagan-like character named Wizard (Robin Williams) who recognizes the boy's prodigious musical talent, renames him August Rush and begins to promote him for his own less-than-noble purposes.

The film is most inspiring as we observe August developing... creating thrilling music on the guitar, piano and pipe organ, attending the Julliard School, composing a symphonic Rhapsody, and rehearsing it with the New York Philharmonic. Meanwhile, on his death bed in Chicago, Lyla's father makes a confession, and Lyla frantically begins to search for her son; at the same time, in San Francisco, Louis begins to search for Lyla.

The film's most satisfying aspects are Freddie Highmore's performance and the beautiful soundtrack. Not surprisingly, there's a happy ending at the Concert in Central Park; however, a more satisfying reunion of Lyla and Louis, and a smaller, less threatening role for Williams (who has become a caricature of himself), would have made the film even more rewarding for grownups, and more inspiring for musically-inclined children. 

Labels: drama, music, romance

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 38/100
Tomatometer (critics=37, viewers=82)
Blu-ray

The Jane Austen Book Club (2007) [PG-13] ****



Half a dozen strong characters share the stage in this ensemble romantic drama. Jocelyn (Maria Bello) and Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) are best friends from their college days; Jocelyn gave her college boyfriend to Sylvia when she was finished with him, and now, 25 years later, he has a mid-life crisis and divorces Sylvia for a younger woman. Their lesbian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) is passionate about relationships and experiencing life, and continually gets hurt by both. Bernadette (Kathy Baker) has had seven husbands, yet remains optimistic about her chances for love. Prudie (Emily Blunt) is a high school French teacher who has never been to France; she is torn between giving in to the advances of a younger student, and trying to rekindle her passion for her husband. And Jocelyn breeds dogs as a way of avoiding the mess and complication of a love affair.

Jocelyn invites Grigg (Hugh Dancy) to join their book club and tries to push him toward the wounded Sylvia, while Grigg is falling for Jocelyn. The club meets monthly, and as they work their way through Jane Austen's six novels, the characters and relationships of the book they are all currently reading are reflected in the lives and relationships of the six book club members. Some of the shared insights are quite interesting: that Jane Austen herself was never married; that she focuses on courtship and not on the married life of the main characters after they were married; that she never wrote a divorce novel; and that her characters continually fight for control over their emotions. While the screenplay is clever, the character and plot references are subtle enough that they will be best appreciated by fans of Jane Austen's novels, but may be lost on others. Nevertheless, if you love Jane Austen's novels, or even just the films of her novels, like Pride and Prejudice (2005), you might enjoy The Jane Austen Book Club

Labels: drama, romance     
Internet Movie Database    
Metacritic 61/100     
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=61, viewers=70)     
Blu-ray

Becoming Jane (2007) [PG-13] ***



It is the late 1790s in rural Hampshire, and a young Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) is developing her talent for writing. Jane dreams of doing the nearly impossible - marrying for love and earning her living as a writer. Her parents (played by James Cromwell and Julie Walters) understand that while romantic love is desirable, money is absolutely essential, and they encourage Jane to marry wealthy young Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox). But Jane is not interested. Wisley is a dull, uncultured booby, and the nephew of rich, arrogant local aristocrat Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith).

And then Jane meets the roguish, non-aristocratic Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy). Although Tom is from Limerick, Ireland, he lives in the London household of his wealthy uncle Judge Langlois (Ian Richardson) while he studies to be a lawyer. Tom's intellect and arrogance, as well as his penchant for bare-knuckle boxing, both irritate and fascinate Jane. The two soon find themselves romantically attracted to one another. But without Tom's uncle's blessing and financial support, if Tom and Jane marry they risk losing everything of importance in life – their family, friends and future fortune.

In order for Becoming Jane to work, we must be convinced that Jane Austen had a great unrequited love in her life – the reason she never married. While Anne Hathaway is convincing as Jane Austen, her chemistry with James McAvoy is not, and we find ourselves comparing the film and its leads with the 2005 major studio release of Pride & Prejudice, and its leads - Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden. Inevitably this film suffers by comparison. Admirers of Jane Austen's novels, and films based on her novels, as well as fans of Hathaway and McAvoy, will enjoy Becoming Jane. Others may want to pass. 

Labels: biography, drama, romance 
Internet Movie Database    
Metacritic 55/100     
Tomatometer (critics=57, viewers=74)     
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Feast of Love (2007) [R] ***



Rather than a feast of love, I'd describe this film as an economy buffet of love and lust. The film is set in dark, rainy Portland, Oregon, centered in the Jitters coffee shop, with several interwoven stories: a semi-retired philosophy professor and his wife (Morgan Freeman and Jane Alexander) grieve for their promising young son who died of a drug overdose; the coffee shop owner (Greg Kinnear) takes for granted the love and affection of his young wife (Selma Blair), who surprises him by leaving him for another woman (Stana Katic); a coffee shop barrista (Toby Hemingway), with a congenital heart defect and a history of drug use, falls in love with a girl (Alexa Davalos) who's looking for a job; an angry, abusive father (Fred Ward) tries to control his son and frighten away his son's new girlfriend; a cynical, amoral real estate agent (Radha Mitchell) carries on an affair with a married man (Billy Burke) while pretending to be in love with the coffee shop owner.

The message in this film is that everyone is looking for love, and we all go about the search in different ways. While the acting is uniformly excellent, and the nudity and love scenes are vital to the storyline, the melodramatic screenplay has some uneven spots, and the production values clearly mark this as an independent production. Nevertheless, if you enjoy watching strong performances by Morgan Freeman and Greg Kinnear, and you like character-driven, multi-generational, adult romantic dramas such as In the Land of Women or The Jane Austen Book Club, I recommend you give Feast of Love a chance. Actual Portland filming locations include the Fresh Pot coffee shop on North Mississippi Avenue, the Reed College campus and PGE Park. 

Labels: drama, romance 
Internet Movie Database     
Metacritic 51/100     
Tomatometer (critics=41, viewers=56)





Dan in Real Life (2007) [PG-13] ****



Dan Burns (Steve Carell) writes a newspaper column on parenting. He's a widower raising three girls, so he has had lots of experience, although his daughters don't think much of his parenting skills. Now it's the weekend of the annual family reunion and Dan and his girls have driven to his parents' lakeside home in rural Rhode Island where the rest of the large family is gathered. Going out to buy a newspaper, Dan meets Marie (Juliette Binoche) in a rural bookstore. The two are clearly interested in each other, but Marie is already involved in a new relationship, and they soon discover that her new boyfriend is Dan's brother, Mitch (Dane Cook), who has brought Marie to the reunion as a guest.

This film resembles a poorly-written and poorly cast, big-budget blend of The Big Chill and Parenthood. The screenplay is uninspired and derivative, with plot elements telegraphed well in advance, and a predictable ending. There are far too many characters and subplots and the film runs twenty minutes too long. This story would have been much more successful as a romantic drama, with Dan, Marie and Mitch all struggling to understand and resolve the secret tension among them. Steve Carell's strength is in comedy; he is out of his depth as a romantic lead, and he has very little romantic chemistry with Juliette Binoche. Binoche is an incredibly gifted actress; she's an Oscar winner for her role in The English Patient, an Oscar nominee for her role in Chocolat, and she's virtually a French national treasure. Although she tries to elevate this production, her talent, beauty and energy are just not enough to keep the film from sinking under the weight of its own mediocrity. Sadly, the supporting talents of Dianne WiestJohn Mahoney and Emily Blunt are also wasted. In the end, Steve Carell fans may be satisfied – Juliette Binoche fans will not.

Labels: comedy, drama, romance

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 65/100
Tomatometer (critics=64, viewers=69)
Blu-ray

King Corn (2007) [UR] ****



This documentary reveals some disturbing facts about our food supply. Over the last thirty-five years we have turned our national network of family farms into an industrialized farming system made up of highly-mechanized super farms. The major crop in this system is corn - but not the sweet corn that we're accustomed to eating at the dinner table. The corn produced in America by the billions of bushels is feed corn, inedible as harvested, but readily processed into three valuable products: high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), cattle feed, and ethanol.

HFCS has replaced most of the sugar formerly found in processed food, in everything from breakfast cereal to bread to soft drinks, and is essentially empty calories. The cattle feed is fed to cattle in large containment feed lots, and while the cattle are being force-fed corn to get them to slaughter weight in 180 days, the process results in a condition called acidosis, which is treated with antibiotics - in fact 70% of all the antibiotics used in America go into our beef cattle. Corn-fed cattle produce a highly marbled beef which is 65% fat by caloric content. The bottom line is that thirty-five years ago our free-range, grass-fed beef contained much more protein, much less fat, and fewer antibiotics (and hormones) than it does today. And given the quantity of HFCS we consume, it is no coincidence that one in eight Americans now have type II diabetes - either diagnosed or undiagnosed. So why are we doing this to ourselves? We do it because it's cheap. HFCS is much cheaper than cane or beet sugar. Corn-fed beef is much cheaper than free-range, grass-fed beef. If you're concerned about the food you eat, and you appreciated Food, Inc., you don't want to miss King Corn

Label: documentary
Internet Movie Database     
Metacritic 70/100     
Tomatometer (critics=96, viewers=77)

The 11th Hour (2007) [PG] ****



Imagine Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance meets Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. We're shown a series of disturbing images interspersed with a series of scientific talking heads, all reciting facts and statistics, and expressing amazement at our collective ignorance. Much of The 11th Hour is similar to programming regularly seen on the Discovery Channel or the National Geographic Channel. As a result, this film is unlikely to change many minds, or compel those in the corridors of political and economic power in Washington and New York to take forceful action. Corporations, the symbols of our greed, have an unbounded, limitless appetite for growth in a bounded, limited natural world; and in the world of globalization, the U.S. government exists to support U.S. multinational corporations.

Thus, we continue to treat the Earth as our property, her mountains and plains, lakes and rivers, forests and oceans, fish and wildlife as resources to be harvested, clear cut, drilled, strip mined, polluted and despoiled as we choose. If we do not reject the growth model and embrace the sustainability model, our exponential growth will be followed by a devastating crash. And how many of our nearly seven billion will be left alive... one billion? And what will our planet be like? Will it be the lovely blue-green pearl we presently inhabit, or an arid, toxic wasteland? Most of us are still in denial; we cannot imagine how much we could all lose. But, after we've destroyed our biosphere and ourselves, what was unimaginable will have become obvious. Unfortunately, for our children and our grandchildren, it will be much too late. Sadly, we don't seem to care, possibly because most of us are focused on the past and the present; it is hard for us to plan for the future. And by the time our grandchildren are adults... most of us will have passed away. 

Label: documentary

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 63/100
Tomatometer (critics=67, viewers=67)