TBT: Love Actually (2003)

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Once more I’m faced with writing about a movie I have never seen before. (Shouldn’t these TBTs be movies from my past, from my childhood? Isn’t that what a ‘throwback’ really is, a memory?) Yes, somewhere along the way I kind of lost my focus, or maybe I just don’t watch enough movies to make this a legitimate feature. I suppose what this has turned into is okay in the end, because I have only seen a finite number of films in my past; there’s (almost) no limit to what I can see in the future. Even still, I can’t help but think that maybe this part of the blog has run its course. With that in mind, we go to yet another new (to me) entry for the final segment this year!

Today’s food for thought: Love Actually.

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Loving, actually since: November 14, 2003

[Netflix]

Despite heartwarming performances from a stellar ensemble cast, this is actually a pretty terrible movie. Love Actually may not be quite as stuffed a turkey as more recent holiday disasters like New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day — here’s a hint: if you want a quality bit of entertainment, you’d do well to stay away from films named after a holiday — nor is it quite as blatant in its commercialization of those holidays. Love Actually is, all the same, entirely too ingratiating.

The impressive ensemble helps make proceedings go down a little easier, but it’s still like trying to chew a wad of taffy that’s way too large for one person to handle. And taffy is kind of gross anyway.  But it’s not as gross as watching actors as talented as these try to make something out of a script that contrives human interaction in such a way that Love Actually becomes quasi-fantastical in its attempts to sell the events as something born out of love — you know, the kind of stuff that gets people by in the real world, not the sweet syrupy stuff in movies. Oh, how the irony stings.

After enduring these spectacularly unspectacular interweaving love stories for more than two hours, I can now only question my thoughts and feelings — all of which were positive — towards Curtis’ similarly precious About Time, in which Domhnall Gleeson discovers he could manipulate his ability to travel through time to build the perfect relationship with Rachel McAdams (or make her his concubine, I’m not sure which). Maybe I ought to just chalk that overly enthusiastic review up to being blinded by Gleeson’s likability. The guy can almost do no wrong. Add in Bill Nighy and you have a cast that’s hard not to be won over by.

Love Actually at least somewhat benefits from a similar reality, except this is a much larger pool of talent and not all participants fare well in this sugary, sappy mess. Like kids in grade school, the ensemble pairs off into smaller groups to tackle ten interrelated, England-set stories that end up coming together through circumstances that I feel more comfortable calling serendipity. I certainly can’t call it the product of good writing.

We have Nighy’s rock’n roll legend Billy Mack who is recording a Christmas song even he despises but goes on to promote it anyway because it has a chance of becoming a #1 hit. Throughout the film he lays on his anti-charm pretty thick, abusing his fat manager Joe (Gregor Fisher) and seemingly bent on self-destruction in a very Russell Brand-like way. His is one of the few stories that actually remain engaging throughout and ends up being far less manipulative. Maybe it’s just coincidence that his is the only story to remain completely independent from the others.

Liam Neeson, playing stepfather to Thomas Brodie-Sangster‘s Sam, sets himself apart from the chorus of others who can only sing in one key: and that is feeling lovelorn and lonely. His Daniel represents an entirely different, more tender side of Neeson that is entirely welcomed. It’s too bad his backstory revolves around the painful loss of his wife (the same wife, we assume, that many of his characters in later action thrillers will too be mourning). Daniel is a warm presence and his relationship with his stepson (also played very well by Sangster) affords Love Actually at least one or two brownie points.

Outside of these threads we start venturing into stories that become less interesting by powers of ten. The best of the rest manifests in Colin Firth’s genuine, affable Jamie, a writer whose girlfriend has been having an affair with his brother. Devastated by the discovery, he retreats into a cottage he owns in France where he meets Portuguese housekeeper Aurélia and soon falls for her, despite the language barrier. So he learns to speak Portuguese and tracks her down after making a brief return trip to England, because, well the movie’s all lovey-dovey like that.

The rest of the picture can be filled in as follows: Keira Knightley and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who play newlywed couple Juliet and Peter, contend with the latent feelings of Peter’s old friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln); Martin Freeman and Joanna Page, body doubles in movies who find attraction to one another while staging sex scenes; Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, a longtime married couple now face a crisis in the wake of Karen (Thompson)’s discovery of an affair her husband is potentially having with a coworker; Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister, the most self-deprecating individual ever to find himself in a position of such power, can’t help but feel attracted to one of his secretaries even after her indiscretion with the sleazy U.S. President (an absolute waste of Billy Bob Thornton’s time). Rowan Atkinson has a slightly amusing cameo. And the less said about Laura Linney and Rodrigo Santoro’s parts, the better.

Love Actually too forcefully reminds the viewer that the world is indeed a small place and, playing out like one of those old McDonald’s commercials from the ’90s (“hey, it could happen!”), it champions taking a risk on romantic gestures over the holiday season. Because, hey — that thing you really want to have happen, it can happen. Because, as the movie justifies itself, it’s Christmas and it’s a time to be bluntly honest with each other.

So let me be bluntly honest with you. I took a chance on this film actually making an attempt to be believable after a few head-scratching developments up front, but too much of a good thing — the spreading of joy in this case — is worse than not enough of that good thing. Mr. Curtis apparently isn’t familiar with the concept of ‘less is more.’ Choked with coincidence and serendipity, Love Actually may spread holiday cheer like a wild fire but the feeling I get from it is more like . . . well, hate actually.

Liam Neeson and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in 'Love Actually'

Recommendation: Star-studded romantic comedy bogged down by unabashed sentimentality. Stars are good, story is horrendous — played out, predictable, way too cheesy and not subtle in the slightest. A few supporting turns make some of the effort worthwhile but in the end, Love Actually isn’t one you turn to for performances. You turn to it to feel much better about getting to escape the banality of real-world Christmas events. A feel good movie that made this little grinch feel quite bad.

Rated: R

Running Time: 135 mins.

TBTrivia: Kris Marshall, who played Colin, a caterer at Juliet and Peter’s wedding, apparently returned his pay check for the scene where the three American girls undress him. He said he had such a great time having three girls undress him for twenty-one takes, that he was willing to do it for free, and thus returned his check for that day.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.playbuzz.com; http://www.fanpop.com  

The 33

'The 33' movie poster

Release: Friday, November 13, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Mikko Alanne; Craig Borten; Michael Thomas; Jose Rivera

Directed by: Patricia Riggen

Patricia Riggen’s optimistic, spiritual account of the 2010 San José mining accident in which 33 miners were trapped 2,300 feet below ground for nearly three months collapses under the weight of a feebly written and executed script.

Disaster films aren’t known for their star-making performances nor their Oscar-baiting screenplays, and The 33 is perfectly okay with continuing that trend, rendering everyone whose name isn’t Antonio Banderas cardboard cut-outs of characters. Because disaster films aren’t known for their acting pedigree, it might seem odd that my major complaint with this picture is the abysmal acting on display. And yet, this thing is painful to sit through folks, even despite an outcome that is quite uplifting because, you know . . . it really happened.

Riggen finds herself combatting the odds with a roster the size of two Marvel films put together. There are at least 33 main characters, and those are just the miners trapped beneath the earth — more specifically, under a rock that apparently weighed twice as much as the Empire State Building. Collectively, I suppose, you could consider them one singular character, only one that’s not very exciting to watch. On the surface, both literally and figuratively, we deal with Chilean government officials, concerned more with public image than the safety of those involved and the grieving family members whose desperate requests are often stymied by bureaucratic bullshit.

Speaking of, there’s Bob Gunton as President Piñera, a far cry from his Warden Norton and Rodrigo Santoro as Chilean engineer Laurence Golborne, whose handsome exterior makes him the perfect candidate as a pseudo-public relations manager, a character so ill-defined I don’t think I’m making that title up. He’s meant to be an engineer, although he’s reminded several times by Gabriel Byrne‘s Actual Engineer character that he should start thinking like one. Duh. Isn’t it obvious? People’s lives are in danger, get it together man!

Gunton and Santoro are rendered as puppets, wooden and largely void of charisma in their Suits, the kind you expect to see in films dealing with real lives hanging in the balance, lives dependent upon their political clout to ironically save them. Even more nebulous are the aforementioned family members, though one in particular stands out because she’s played by Juliette Binoche (for some reason). She’s sister to the alcoholic Darío Segovia (Juan Pablo Raba); the pair have more issues communicating than Hellen Keller. Apparently they’ve suffered some sort of trauma in the past.

Clearly, something was going to have to be sacrificed given the extensive roster. But Riggen, along with a quartet of writers, sacrifices the wrong thing, reducing virtually every miner and their corresponding family members to a few lines at most. It’s nigh on impossible to root for these people when we already know the outcome and when we can’t tell Adam from Eve. Fans of The Office will get some mileage out of Oscar Nuñez as Yonni Barrios, one of the miners who is experiencing marital woes and who apparently farts in his sleep. If I weren’t such a fan of his character in that show I’d label this characterization as annoyingly juvenile. Actually, it still is just juvenile, but at least there’s an attempt to shove some humor down into these dank caves.

There are a few positive takeaways, however. What saves this largely uncharismatic cast is the level of diversity in the casting itself. Chilean, Brazilian, Filipino, Mexican, Cuban and Colombian actors congregate to play their Chilean parts, and once again it’s apparent how much Banderas believes in this material. His Mario Sepúlveda is one of an elite few with energy and passion. And quite frankly I was prepared for the religious overtones to be off-putting. Instead this adds weight to proceedings. It’s also one of a few elements that signify the passage of time, lending gravity to the collective despair.

Unfortunately these elements are not enough to qualify The 33 as a natural disaster/biopic worth digging into.

Antonio Banderas inspiring his mining brothers to keep the good faith in 'The 33'

Recommendation: The 33 represents a cinematic treatment of a fairly recent and highly unlikely rescue mission that garnered global attention and support. The optimism is a welcomed attribute, but weak writing and poor acting do a lot of damage here. If you’re looking for basic coverage of the event in cinematic form, I think this is currently your only option (unless there’s a documentary out there somewhere). Inspired by the book ‘Deep Down Dark,’ written by Hector Tobar.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 127 mins.

Quoted: “That’s not a rock, that’s the heart of the mountain. She finally broke.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

300: Rise of an Empire

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Release: Friday, March 7, 2014

[Theater]

Two things you must be comfortable with in order to properly enjoy the latest Frank Miller graphic novel adaptation: a whole lot of crimson red and a whole lot of Eva Green. If you’re at least cool with the second, then there’s hope for you still as you stand in line waiting to buy a ticket to 300: Rise of an Empire.

It goes without saying that you’ve seen the original, so if consistency is what you seek in your 2014 experience, you’ll be left mostly satisfied. Rise of an Empire shares in the original’s gleeful bloodletting and it rejoices in the opportunity to strip 21st Century male models down to their undies and to empower them with gigantic swords and shields made from some material appropriately manly. . .like, cast iron. Or something. They all then get into a consistent (and pretty manly) fight that ends up constituting half of the runtime. While all of this is going on your I.Q. is taking a pretty consistent beating in the process. On these fronts, the new film delivers.

Rather than taking the risk of telling a story completely removed and distinct from that of the film that preceded it, Rise of an Empire benefits from simply increasing the size of the stage. This strategy is not exactly ground-breaking, but it’s a tactic that helps the sequel provide the fun it ought to. Clearly, with the extensive amount of time spent on slow-motion dramatizations of killing blows and the like, there was barely material enough to warrant a second, full-length feature film. Not to mention, at least half of this one is spent doing battle rather than using time to explain things — with hindsight this was another good decision.

We rely on Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) in the opening scene to fill us in on certain details that will not only give the upcoming story context but also help make a few things clearer about what happened years prior to the events of 300. Following the murder of King Darius I of Persia by General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), a true evil was born when Darius’ son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), filled with a rage only emo kids can identify with, dunked himself in a bath of what appeared to be liquefied gold and transformed himself into a powerful and terrifying god-king. The narration continues: in the ensuing years, Xerxes made it his top priority to tear Greece apart with brute force, using vengeance as his guiding spirit, and confidence that no one can challenge his authority as his motivation to continue.

Now Greece’s last fighting chance lies within Themistokles and his decision-making. He believes their best chance of surviving a massive attack from the Persians would be to unite as one, and he turns to Sparta and to Gorgo for support. Unfortunately he has just missed Leonidas as he has led 300 of his men out of the area, and Gorgo is reluctant to side with the Greeks. Themistokles, ever determined to mount a defensive against the incoming Persians, does manage to gather a fleet of ships and leads the charge out into the Aegean Sea, where they are to confront a massive Navy commanded by the vengeful and bloodthirsty Artemisia (Green).

While tipping its hat to the original, the saga branches out and onto open waters in a particularly brutal and extended action sequence. Themistokles and several thousand Greek craftsmen-turned-warriors put their lives on the line in a gloriously bloody and cartoonishly stylized battle that rivals anything seen in 300. Every so often there are a few more nuggets of information that connect the original to this “sequel,” though the majority of what happens beyond the halfway mark can be categorized as glorified stunt work and crimson red CGI.

The threat of Artemisia is almost without question the strength of this overstylized bloodbath. And why shouldn’t it be? Green clearly relishes the opportunity to play evil. A good portion of the film proves she can be convincingly psychotic; sometimes her lines are excruciatingly cliché, but never does she come across disingenuous or disinterested in what kind of role she’s playing here. The same cannot be said for Stapleton’s Themistokles, and while he’s been given rather large shoes to fill by essentially becoming this year’s Leonidas, this is an actor who can’t win affections nearly as quickly. He’s no meat-headed brute, but he’s not exactly an inspiration, either. Unfortunately he’s at the center of the film’s attention and the lack of star power is to blame for a lot of the film’s lack of impact.

No one will ever consider the writing of 300 award-winning, but by comparison Rise of an Empire is even less memorable. There isn’t the same kind of martyrdom that made the blood spillage in 300 seem like such a noble sacrifice and ultimately worth the time spent watching such violence. Themistokles and his brave men are merely shadowing the fates of Gerard Butler and his outnumbered ranks and its a fact you simply cannot get over as the story trends to the more and more predictable with each stabbing of the spear to a chest. As well, Xerxes comes across as more and more laughable with each scene he appears in. He’s supposed to be the top dog, yet he hides behind the black veil of Artemisia as she goes on a murdering spree unmatched by many a full-grown Greek warrior. He also has some of the worst dialogue in the entire movie and the scenes in which he continues to plot his terror are completely wasted moments.

All the same, the decrease in quality should have been anticipated. Standards need not be very high. If blood and chaos is what one wants, blood and chaos is what one gets, although the word ‘chaos’ can apply to the product in general. Whereas Snyder’s direction gave purpose to the deaths of so many (including that of Gerard Butler’s most identifiable role), Noam Murro’s direction is numbingly violent and consists MANly of repetition and cliché Hollywood effects. It’s good to have some fun with history, but this one tries just a little bit too hard.

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2-5Recommendation: Though it comes in an obvious second to its predecessor, 300: Rise of an Empire sports some bloody good fun via action sequences and epic set pieces. Visually, it’s stunning and there isn’t a great deal to complain about if you are requiring a film that asks absolutely nothing of its audience. . . well, you know, apart from remembering how important it is to work out on a daily basis.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “It begins as a whisper. . .a promise. . .the lightest of breezes dances above the death cries of 300 men. That breeze became a wind, a wind that my brothers have sacrificed. A wind of freedom. . .a wind of justice. . .a wind of vengeance.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com