Sunday, December 5, 2010


Music From Another Room (1998) [PG-13] ***+

A film review by flawlessfrogs for “Or as They Say in Hollywood” on July 26, 2011.

Movies are meant to be entertaining. However, sometimes a film is so bad, it's actually hard to watch it. Music From Another Room was one of these films. The film opens with a Thanksgiving dinner twenty-five years earlier. At the end of the night, the party's hostess, Grace (Brenda Blethyn, Pride & Prejudice) goes into labor. Five-year-old Danny helps deliver the baby girl. He announces that he will marry the baby and it is revealed that Danny and his widower father moved to England shortly thereafter. The film then skips ahead twenty-five years. Danny (Jude Law, Gattaca, Sherlock Holmes) returns to New York and happens to stumble upon Grace and her now grown daughter, Anna (Gretchen Mol, Manchester by the Sea)'s home. He falls in love with Anna (though she does not reciprocate his feelings) and soon becomes entwined in their dysfunctional family's problems. While this is an interesting premise, the film's plot then becomes confusing and broken; scenes are not well-explained and the different character plots jump around.

Not only was the plot confusing and under-developed but it was also poorly acted. While Anna is supposed to be beautiful, fun, and confident, she comes off as annoying and overly conventional. She leaves the audience wondering how Danny could ever fall for her. The different plot lines, involving Anna's blind sister, dying mother, and paranoid sister-in-law, do not fit together and sometimes fail to make sense. The humor is often lost at awkward moments or is just not funny. The actual comic relief came in the form of an unintentionally hilarious (at one point, he slaps his forehead and repeatedly says Stupid Jesus) salsa dancer/dishwasher named Jesus, who elopes with Anna's blind sister, Nina (Jennifer Tilly, Monster's Inc.).

Overall, Music From Another Room was tedious and oversentimental. If you are willing to overlook all of the film's issues, you might enjoy it. [Reviewer’s rating: * ½ out of 4 stars]

Blogger's comment: I have to agree with the film critic. Given the supporting cast, which included Martha Plimpton, Jeremy Piven, Jon Tenney, Jane Adams and Bruce Jarchow, this is yet another example of a writer/director (in this case Charlie Peters) having a good concept, but failing to translate it into a tight shooting script and professional direction. Apparently the film industry agrees. In the twenty years since 1998 Peters has had only two screenwriting credits, and has never directed again.

Labels:  comedy, drama, romance

Little City (1998) [R] ****

San Francisco's a great little city, as long as you don't mind running into the same six people over and over again. As Kevin (Jon Bon Jovi) describes it, it's a cheap place to live, and it tolerates lack of initiative. Kevin's a bartender at the San Remo Bar. He's gone through all the locally available women, so he's talked his boss into hiring Rebecca (Penelope Ann Miller) who's new in town and needs a job.

Kevin's friend Adam (Josh Charles) is a cabdriver and an artist, with a live-in girlfriend, Nina (Annabella Sciorra) who's a chef at the Little City Restaurant. Sadly, Adam has never gotten over his old girlfriend Kate (Joanna Going), and his lack of passion for Nina has driven her into Kevin's arms. They both hate the lying and sneaking around, but they can't stay away from each other

Adam's mistake with Kate was that he encouraged her to have a three-way with Anne (JoBeth Williams), who teaches painting at the Art Institute. Anne's a lesbian, and her hobby is corrupting pretty, bi-curious, straight girls, and then moving on. Adam and Kate both knew Anne was a lesbian; Adam just didn't think Kate would be so into the experience, or that she would fall in love with Anne. And Kate didn't know that Anne wasn't in it for the long haul, and would reject her once she got clingy.

With all the relationships in pieces, by coincidence, Adam picks up Rebecca as a cab fare, and recognizes her from the San Remo. And, then, Kevin realizes how much he loves Nina, and Kate decides she wants to have a baby with Adam. And so both Kevin and Adam have decisions to make. This is an excellent character-driven, conversation-rich, ensemble romantic comedy drama. The situations these people find themselves in are all too real, all too familiar. The casting is terrific, there's great romantic chemistry among the leads, and beautiful San Francisco landscapes. If you've enjoyed recent films like Definitely, Maybe; Feast of Love; He's Just Not That Into You or Purple Violets, you might enjoy Little City.

Labels: comedy, lesbian, romance     
Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=NA, viewers=68)

Kiss the Sky (1998) [R] ****

Two West Coast businessmen, Jeff (William L. Petersen) and Marty (Gary Cole), have been friends since their college days. Now, twenty years later, they both feel depressed and trapped in their lives, burdened with wives, children, houses, mortgages and dead-end jobs. In the midst of their mid-life crises they decide to escape to the Philippines, ostensibly to manage a construction project in Manila. Upon their arrival, the exotic Far East begins to transform them. They immerse themselves in pleasures of the flesh, and soon they meet a lovely young woman named Andrea (Sheryl Lee) and a wise Zen Buddhist monk named Kozen (Terence Stamp). Ultimately they find an island paradise where they decide to build a retreat.

Unfortunately, human imperfection guarantees that any paradise on Earth will not long remain unspoiled. As the monk Kozen observes, inner peace cannot be found in the external world of fleeting experiences of the senses, but only by transcending the outer world... by turning within in meditation. For anyone who has ever gone, or yearned to go, on a spiritual quest in search of himself and the meaning of life, this film will reawaken poignant memories. The final message of the film is that it does not matter whether we choose the path of the householder - the family man, or the path of the monk - the recluse. We can transcend the world and experience inner spiritual growth through either path. We only need to take the first step on the journey.

Labels: drama, romance

Sliding Doors (1998) [R] ****

A film review by James Berardinelli.

Look back at all the times in your life when there was a fork in the path to the future. Some sort of decision had to be made, and, for better or worse, it irrevocably altered the course of your existence. From time-to-time, everyone thinks about the roads not taken, and how things might have turned out if the choice had been different. Perhaps even more dizzying to contemplate is how a seemingly minor action -- catching the 10 AM train, for example -- could have an equally profound, yet less obvious, impact. Maybe that's where you met your significant other, and, had you reached the platform just a few seconds later...

Film makers are no less fascinated by issues of destiny than anyone else, and that's why there's no shortage of movies about this subject. The best of the bunch were probably made by the late Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, who was obsessed with questions of fate and chance. These themes weave their way through many of his movies, including DecalogueThe Double Life of Veronique, and the triptych of BlueWhite, and Red. However, they are most explicitly examined in a 1981 film called Blind Chance, where Kieslowski presents the three different fates of one man after a minor action (missing or catching a train) changes the course of his life. In his autobiography, Kieslowski on Kieslowski, the director describes his attraction to the concept this way: [The idea is] rich and interesting... that every day we're faced with a choice which could end our entire life yet of which we're completely unaware.

While this approach has been the fodder for several notable dramatic films (including, in a way, Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life), Sliding Doors is the first romantic comedy to plumb its depths. The road not taken approach isn't just a plot device, either. Writer/director Peter Howitt expands upon both possible fates of a character after she just misses/catches a train. The audience watches, with ever-growing fascination, how this one event impacts upon every aspect of her life: her future career, where she lives, whom she loves, and whether she has a family. As her separate destinies diverge and then re-converge, she becomes two completely different individuals.

That woman is Helen, played by Gwyneth Paltrow as a long, dark-haired Brit. One day, after losing her job as an advertising executive, she decides to return home in the middle of the day. The scene of the pivotal moment is a train platform. In scenario #1, she just slips through the sliding doors before the train pulls out of the station. On board, she meets the cheerful, talkative James (John Hannah), a Monty Python fan who is taken with her beauty. Minutes later, in her flat, she walks in on her lover, Gerry (John Lynch), in bed with another woman (Jeanne Tripplehorn). In scenario #2, she misses the train and, shortly thereafter, is the victim of an attempted mugging. She doesn't meet James and fails to make it home in time to discover Gerry's infidelity. Juxtaposed one against the other, while sharing many places, cues, and characters, the two stories proceed in parallel from there.

On one level, for viewers who enjoy pondering the workings of fate, Sliding Doors can be viewed as a deep and wonderful experience. But, for those who just appreciate a romantic comedy characterized by solid acting, a script with a few twists, and a great deal of genuinely funny material, Sliding Doors still fits the bill. One of its most obvious strengths is that it can satisfy many different types of audiences -- those who demand something substantial from their motion pictures, and those who could care less.

It shouldn't come as any surprise that the acting, at least from three of the four leads, is solid. Paltrow, who does double duty as two Helens who are initially the same, yet gradually become much different, is the standout. She plays both of her roles effectively and believably -- the shy, insecure woman who stays with Gerry and the liberated, platinum-blond who severs the ties to her old life and embarks on a new career with a new man. John Hannah, known to most American viewers as the younger gay character in Four Weddings and a Funeral, is instantly likable. John Lynch, taking a break from movies about Ireland's troubles, does a good job presenting Gerry as a inept, selfish philanderer. Only Jeanne Tripplehorn, who plays an over-the-top vixen, seems out of place. Her attempts at broad comedy are occasionally jarring, and it's occasionally difficult to see her Lydia as anything more than a plot element.

One member of the supporting cast deserves special notice. Douglas McFerran, who plays Gerry's best friend, Russell, is an absolute delight, stealing every scene that he's in. Part of this is surely because he is given the best lines in the movie. On one occasion, he has a marvelous monologue bemoaning how advances in the telecommunications industry have trapped men into a life of monogamy. On another occasion, while laughing at Gerry's plight with the women in his life, he comments: being with you makes the wait for the next episode of Seinfeld more bearable. But it's not all in the dialogue. McFerran tears into this part with relish; his performance becomes one of the most memorable aspects of a top-notch comedy.

This is the first feature film for Peter Howitt, and he approaches the task with unimpeachable aplomb. The script is shrewd and inventive, combining wit, romance, and intelligent melodrama into a crowd-pleasing whole. Sliding Doors grants more than just a good time at the movies, however. For those who are so inclined, its central theme offers an opportunity to ponder some of the more philosophical questions about the workings of the universe -- all while having a good time.

Labels: comedy, drama, fantasy, romance, space-time

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 59/100
Tomatometer( critics=63, viewers=68)