I Feel Love for Men, Women & Children

I love this trailer.  Those who have been to the movies in the last few weeks have probably seen it.  I saw it a couple times and was slow to react, but it got burned in my brain.  Why?  Largely because of the music, a sensual, slowed-down but equally mesmerizing version of the Donna Summer disco hit “I Feel Love”.

Apparently there’s a lot of covers of “I Feel Love”, mainly keeping up the pace — but this one by a group called the Plantains turns it into a haunting groove that syncs perfectly with the visuals.  The soundtrack for Men, Women & Children is not available, but when it is I hope the song is included.  It would help the movie, but as we’ve seen from Silver Linings Playbook, underhanded marketers will sometimes use music to promote a movie that isn’t anywhere to be found in the movie itself.

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As much as I like the trailer it seems like a movie that could be either truly fabulous, or just as easily one where nothing much happens.  I’m hoping for the former.

iTunes Trailer

iTunes Trailer

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Love Is Strange; this Movie Not So Much

Click for Larger

Click for larger

A great Rotten Tomatoes score (97%) and the chance to see John Lithgow, one of my favorite actors in — gasp! — a movie! — motivated me to see him in the story of of an aging gay couple, Love Is Strange.  The last — and only — John Lithgow movie I can think of him in was the terrific Terms of Endearment.  I’ve always loved him though, especially in the work most associated with him, 3rd Rock from the Sun, the most exuberant sitcom ever made.  He’s a brilliant actor, and I wish he had done, and will do more movies.Love Is Strange - text block

But alas, this project finds him saddled with a visionless, pedestrian script that makes you appreciate the genius of Woody Allen.  The performances are good enough, though the best job here is by Marisa Tomei, always the consummate pro.  Nothing is exceptional on any level, and the plot, script and overall production are straight out of amateur hour.  3/10

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Comparison Notes: Both highly recommended, much better alternatives: The Visitor, House of Sand and Fog

Friday Fun Flick: Waking Ned Devine

Waking Ned Devine - poster

I mentioned it in my post on Calvary, and further back in my “British Invasion” write-up, so let’s shine a light on Waking Ned Devine (1998).  This movie doesn’t need to force its spirituality the way Calvary did.  Now, the subject matter is completely different — there aren’t any weighty clerical matters to be tackled here, no sexual abuse cases.  But it doesn’t matter; there’s still more depth, and a heck of a lot more entertainment value.

A complete delight, Waking Ned Devine sings with joy — the right way to spark religious fervor in my book.

Waking Ned Devine - trailer - reduced

Trailer (iTunes link)

What’s in The Drop?

The Drop - poster wide

The Drop features a mob-related crime story not so different than what you’ve seen before in, say, Killing Them Softly — or a hundred other films.  But it succeeds by two factors: one, the story very adeptly maintains a steady drumbeat of tension that keeps you invested in the film throughout.  And two, its excellent performances, anchored by British actor Tom Hardy in a masterful portrayal of a distinctly American bartender named Bob.  Bob’s not The Drop - text blockyour normal tough guy.  He’s more interesting than that.  Like the great modern film noir After Dark, My Sweet, this central figure may come across a little slow or a little stupid.  But not so fast.

The Drop is the second high-quality crime picture of the year, Cold in July being the first.  And like Cold in July, The Drop was a nice surprise.  It was written by Dennis Lehane, and the narrative allows uncertainty to hang in the air in a way not dissimilar to his previous work Mystic River.   In addition to Hardy, it stars a perfectly-cast James Gandolfini in his last feature film and Noomi Rapace, from the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.  8/10

Nymphomaniac Vol. II: The Better Half?

Nymphomaniac Vol. II picks up right where Vol. I leaves off, as I had predicted.  So that’s one thing that is a little irritating: 5 months between watching Vol. I and Vol. II.  Now that’s partly my own fault, for letting so much time go by — but it’s also the fault of a highly constrained release.  By the time I saw Vol. I in the theater, Vol. II was ending its run.  The solution to this would be to get back to the idea of an intermission — something that used to be commonplace and indeed heralded for longer films.  Any Lars von Trier film has such a targeted, niche market that the way to do it is show the entire thing at once, put in an intermission, and charge double the admission if necessary.  Because these are in no way two distinct films, but two halves of the same film.  There is no question about this, so release it that way.  I know it’s not up to the distribution company as much as the theaters, but work something out so it’s shown properly.

Now that I have my rant out of the way, the movie:

Nymphomaniac Vol. II - poster

Nymphomaniac — the complete set — gives the viewer a strongly compelling ride-along with the sex addict Joe.  This is Lars von Trier’s most sexually explicit film yet, to the point that some have labeled it porn.  It is not porn; it is an independent film with Hollywood mainstays such as Uma Thurman, Christian Slater, Stellan Skarsgård and Willem Dafoe.  And remember that Lars von Trier made the magnificent Breaking the Waves.  There is not so much separation between these two films.

Much of Vol. II, which follows our antagonist Joe as she has aged a bit from Vol. I, is exceptionally engaging.  It is set in a framework of tales recounted by Joe to a stranger she has met (Skarsgård), which often add a little levity and interesting sidelines such as a discussion about clipping nails first from the left or right hand.  But I did have a couple problems.

First of all, at one point early in Vol. II we are told it is now “three years later.”  This is the point of the transition from young Joe to older Joe, and a transition to the actresses who play older and younger Joe.  But younger Joe is played by Stacy Martin, who was a very youthful-looking 21 at the time of filming, and older Joe is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who is a full 20 years older and looks it.  Besides the blatant age difference, the two actresses look very little like one another.  There was no reason this transition could not have been handled better.  It is a jarring effect that distracts unnecessarily from the unfolding story.

Now there’s another problem with this older Joe – younger Joe dichotomy, and it’s that not only are there obvious physical differences which tell us these are two different characters, but behavioral ones as well.  Maybe I’m just being an ageist, but younger Joe was more interesting to watch; more unpredictable.  They just seemed like two different people, and it didn’t work.

Nymphomaniac Vol. II - text blockVol. II also had some little story problems that didn’t quite flow, and I very much disliked the cop-out ending.  There were moments in this movie where one felt it reaching for and almost achieving greatness.  A theme that tied both films together was that of finding your “soul tree” — and it was a beautiful thing.  But there are other times — such as the ending — where it almost seems as if von Trier got tired and gave up.

So, though I stated I would not, I am going to pass judgement on each half separately.  Vol. I: 8/10; Vol. II: 5/10.  If I judge them as a complete set, 6/10 — but with all the normal caveats in place.  Either way, make sure this is not your first Lars von Trier film.  Watch Breaking the Waves before you see Antichrist, and Antichrist before you see Nymphomaniac Vol. I.

Romantic Twists in The One I Love

THE ONE I LOVE, US poster art, from left: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, 2014. ©RADiUS-TWC/Courtesy

Manohla Dargis in the Times:

“The One I Love” is diverting, but nothing catches fire, despite Ms. Moss, an amazing actress fast breaking free of the limits imposed on her by “Mad Men.”

Yes and no.  Mad Men is the most exquisite television show ever produced, and it hardly limits Elisabeth Moss’s acting skills.  Her characterization of Peggy Olson in Mad Men is complex, nuanced and layered to a degree not at all achieved in The One I Love.  Reading Ms. Dargis’ review, I think she’s a little overly taken with Ms. Moss’s performance.

The One I Love - text blockHaving said that, I am in complete agreement with the remainder of her astute and exceptionally well-written evaluation.  While mainly praising The One I Love, she criticizes it as a “modestly sized puzzler” with an “inadequate, muddled finish” — sentiment which expresses the failure of the movie to live up to its promise.  It could have gone so much further.

Nevertheless, this was an entertaining, refreshing, quick little movie with a likability — yes, largely due to Moss’s performance as so vaunted by Ms. Dargis — that makes it an easy recommendation.  Due to the “narrative uncertainty, marital gamesmanship and speculative foolishness” (Dargis again) that take place within the tight confines of these vacation homes, I see The One I Love as a successful take on last year’s disappointing Much Ado About Nothing.  7/10