Tag Archives: Romance

James Mangold’s Knight & Day

Both Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz can carry a film nicely on their own, but both of them front and centre in the same project makes for a great time, even if it is a piece of inconsequential fluff like James Mangold’s Knight & Day, a riff on the romantic action spy comedy that sees the two of them shooting their way across the globe before inevitably ending up in each other’s arms. This film looks, feels and sounds like a million others out there, it’s brightly lit, generically shot and doesn’t have much in the way of its own brand of style or atmosphere. What sets it apart are Tom and Cameron, who breathe life into the two roles and provide their own lighting with those famous smiles. He’s Roy Miller, a slightly aloof super spy on the run from both his former bosses (Viola Davis and Peter Sarsgaard, both meaning business) and a nasty Latin arms dealer (Jordi Molla). She’s June Havens, a bubbly rare auto restorer who bumps into him in the airport and gets swept up in a frenzied world of intrigue, murder, car chases, dodgy feds, international escapism and all the Miller Lite PG-13 gunplay the MPAA can shake a stick at. There’s a freeway pileup in Boston, a rowdy hand to hand beatdown aboard a plane that Cruise is forced to land in a cornfield, a motorbike chase in Madrid, and (my favourite) a close quarters knife fight on a train through the Austrian Alps. It’s all fun and games without much of a brain in its head, but the idea is to have a good time anyways. Cruise plays it slightly loopy here, as if decades of stressful spy work has left him… not quite all there. Best line of the film? “Nobody move or I’ll kill myself and then her!” He barks to a diner full of people as he drags her off to another action sequence. Diaz is game for it and keeps up with him, especially once she starts to get a feel for the fast and loose lifestyle. The film doesn’t make too much of an impression and I wish it had more of an organic vibe all its own to match what the two stars bring to the table, because as is the overall visual aesthetic is a bit bland, and over-lit. Cruise and Diaz make it worthwhile though, and are clearly having a blast. It just occurred to me, but where did that title even come from?

-Nate Hill

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The Man In The Moon

The Man In The Moon is a hauntingly opaque title for a film; it could be a literal sci fi, decidedly cartoonish or something more vague. In this case it’s a sad, enlightening and unusually mature coming of age story starring Reese Witherspoon as a girl teetering on the cusp of childlike whimsy and the tough life lessons that follow, introduced to romance, tragedy and the complexities of life as one gets older. The poster and description sounds something along the lines of My Girl, which is an astute enough film about the nasty curveballs that life throws us, but this one deliberately dodges any cliches we may see coming and mines life for the odd, unpredictable turns it takes that you don’t often find woven into narratives. Witherspoon has never been better than she was in her first few key roles as a young actress, this being a lynchpin. She plays Dani, a fourteen year old girl growing up in the south with her loving parents (Sam Waterson and Tess Harper) and beautiful older sister (Emily Warfield). She’s a forthright tomboy who loves playing in hidden glens and watering holes out in the backwater, and finds a kindred spirit in Court (Jason London), a teenage boy new to the region living with his mom and brothers. Sparks fly between the two and burgeoning emotions rose up in Dani with the fires of adolescence, until confusion and tragedy force her to reconcile them in ways that are difficult for a girl her age. The plot takes you by surprise and doesn’t him along idyllically like similar films, rather finding the bends in the road of life and emphasizing that things don’t go our way more often than they do. Witherspoon is magic in the role, balancing anger, first time heartbreak and grief incredibly carefully. She never over or underplays emotion either, and that goes for the rest of the cast too, who all coexist realistically, make the rural setting feel lived in and sculpt the relationships between one another in genuine, warm fashion. A gem that’s been sort of lost in the tides of time, but holds up wonderfully.

-Nate Hill

Steve De Jarnett’s Miracle Mike

Ever had one of those clammy nightmares where you’re dead sure that some catastrophic disaster is imminent, but are next to powerless to do anything about it, run or escape what’s coming? Steve Dejarnett’s Miracle Mile captures that feeling uncannily well, and is now one of my favourite films for that as well as many other reasons. It’s not that that sensation is pleasant or at all enjoyable to relive outside of a dream, but it’s so hard to tangibly recreate on film that what Miracle Mike achieves is a rare commodity among mood-scapes. The film is disarmingly benign as it opens: a young man (Anthony Edwards) and woman (Mare Winningham) meet and fall in love outside a neon adorned diner in dreamy, pastel hued Los Angeles. They make plans for later that night, and a whimsical note takes hold. We’re treated to some of the most inspired foreshadowing I’ve ever seen involving a pigeon, a lit cigarette and an open power line. As night descends on the Miracle Mile neighbourhood of LA, Edwards finds himself back at the diner when the pay phone outside rings. He answers it, and a frantic voice warns him that nuclear attack is coming to the city in just over an hour. What would you do? Who would you tell? He races right back into the diner and, panicked, informs the rogues gallery of oddballs you’d find at such an establishment after midnight. Naturally they all freak out too, and as soon as that cat is out of the bag, it’s a feverish, mad dash to exit the city before the threat arrives, if indeed it is a credible danger. That’s part of the beauty here; whether or not this is a hoax is not clearly revealed until the absolute last minute of the film, but would you risk not taking it seriously? These characters react in a variety of ways, but Edwards just wants to find that special girl he met earlier when things felt so sunny and full of possibility, to find her and escape together. It’s one of those ‘real time, one night in the crazy city’ films that unfolds over a short period of time but couldn’t be more full of instances, encounters and the kind of strange occurrences only the witching hour has to offer. The romantic angle, usually played to the hilt of melodrama in these kinds of films, is somehow so frank and truthful that we buy it, we care about these two kids and it makes the thought of apocalypse all the more dreadful. For all it’s focus on death and potential destruction, this is a beautiful film that is so full of life and character, a sly cross section of LA’s invisible working class under the nocturnal skies and a bubble gum, eye popping display of colour, design and eccentricity. The cityscape is populated by an ever present cast of brilliantly used character actors including O Lan Jones, Robert Doqui, Kurt Fuller, Mykelti Williamson, Edward Bunker, John Agar, Lou Hancock, Denise Crosby, Kelly Jo Minter, Allen Rosenberg, Earl Boen, Brian Thompson, Peter Berg and a quick but badass cameo from Aliens’s Janette Goldstein, once again waving around a big gun in exuberant fashion. A film needs a good score, and whenever Tangerine Dream is hired to compose, unfiltered magic happens. Their music here is a driving force to the action, an atmospheric lullaby that exudes both beauty and danger in its synth laden, melodic pulse. This is such a unique film, such a deft melting pot of genres that the recipe can’t really be defined as anything but a flavour all it’s own, an experience that makes you feel primal fear while wowing you with cinematography, editing and one shots that practically pull you right into the action. Points also awarded for bravery in pulling off that ending without compromise. The very definition of a forgotten gem, and a film that should be on every shelf.

-Nate Hill

Richard Curtis’s Love Actually

Who doesn’t love Love Actually? I know I do. It’s such a sentimental, goofy, overblown pile of mush and I love it even more for being so. It can be sappy, but a lot of the situations and character interactions it entails are blunt, awkward truths made even more hilarious by an even more awkward cast, and encapsulate the meaning of Christmas. Not all the couples work out, not all of the individual stories end well or in satisfaction for characters or audiences. But that’s life, and they make the best out of what they have at this time of year, which is what it’s really about. Some turn out splendidly for the characters, leaving them beaming. Some learn tough lessons that are necessary for growth, some find love in storybook fashion and others are simply there for comic relief. What comedy and tearful drama we get as too, delivered by an astoundingly massive cast of British legends, speckled with a few familiar Yankee faces just to garnish the giant British figgy pudding. Liam Neeson plays a grieving father whose son (Thomas Bodie Sangster) is sick with love. Neeson’s sister (Emma Watson, grounded, real, heartbreaking) deals with her irresponsible husband (Alan Rickman, incapable of a false note). The newly elected Prime Minister (Hugh Grant in full flustered, fumbling glory) is attracted to his cute secretary (Martine Mcutcheon) and aloof writer Colin Firth feels pangs for his Portuguese housekeeper (Lúcià Moniz) who speaks not a word of English. Laura Linney has a steamy office romance with Rodrigo Santoro whilst dealing with an ill sibling, Bill Nighy is hysterical as a cynical Grinch of a pop star with a jaded facade, Keira Knightely, Chiwetel Efjor and Andrew Lincoln are involved in a subtle love triangle, and there’s all kinds of interwoven vignettes including Martin Freeman, Elisha Cuthbert, Ivana Milicevic, January Jones, Claudia Schiffer, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards, Joanna Page, Sienna Guillory, Billy Bob Thornton as the sleazy US President and a priceless Rowan Atkinson as the world’s weirdest jewelry salesman who gives new maniacal meaning to holiday gift wrapping. It’s a big old circus of Christmas spirit with all kinds of different desires, motivations and relationships that reaches a festive fever pitch before erupting into a joyous finale of giddy Yuletide melodrama and cathartic good times that is impossible not to smile at. An annual watch for me.

-Nate Hill

Conor McPherson’s The Eclipse

Conor McPherson’s The Eclipse blends elements of horror, romance, grief and mystery beautifully, it’s a small film with a big emotional core, some genuinely scary ghostly occurrences and a fantastic rare lead performance from character actor Ciaran Hinds. Set in a small seaside town on the Irish coast, he plays an artist who is mourning the death of a family member while trying to steer his two young children through the grieving process. It doesn’t help matters when he starts to see frightening apparitions and hear things going bump in the night around his creaky old house, beginning to question what’s real and what’s brought on by stress. When a novelist (Iben Hjejle) comes to town for a writer’s convention, sparks fly between them and a tender romantic angle is introduced, becoming something of a triangle thanks to another far more obnoxious author (Aiden Quinn) who just barges in to make things difficult. The supernatural elements are very subtle and always serve to mirror the mental climate of Hinds’s character, an arc he handles with grace, geniality and gravitas, he is truly a talent and I wish he’d get more starring roles. Ambiguity and uncertainty cement a decidedly European vibe here vs that of many in-your-face, obvious North American horror films which is always welcome too. An undiscovered gem.

-Nate Hill

Jeffrey Reiner’s Trouble Bound

Trouble Bound is like a low rent, dysfunctional, meandering Bonnie & Clyde, a laid back crime drama with a dry wit and slight romantic angle, and while it can’t really focus on any of the above aspects either individually or as a group, it still sort of has a lost puppy charm to it, thanks in part to Michael Madsen and Patricia Arquette in engaging performances as our leads. It’s a kind of ‘lovers on the run surrounded by crime’ thing like Tony Scott’s True Romance or Lynch’s Wild At Heart but they only really had enough money and creative juice for a half mast little exercise like this. Madsen plays a thief fresh out of prison trying to go straight, until a gaggle of thugs he used to take up with plant a dead body in the trunk of his car before he takes off. Then they decide they need it back, and start following him all over the country. Meanwhile he picks up Arquette, who is the daughter of a mafia kingpin and wants vague revenge on someone for needlessly complicated reasons. It’s all a bit over elaborate for something of this girth, the strongest element being the chemistry between Madsen and Arquette that’s somewhere south of charming, as they grow on each other while keeping that edge between them. Billy Bob Thornton is hilarious as one of the buffoonish thieves pursuing him, and there’s scattershot work from Paul Ben Victor, Gregory Sporlader, Mark Pellegrino and Seymour Cassell. Entertaining enough and a good time if you’re a fan of the leads, both of whom I love a lot. Kino Lorber released a DVD at some point, which is no doubt the way to find this as the relic of a disc I rented years ago had more grain than a box of shredded wheat.

-Nate Hill

The Age Of Adaline

The Age Of Adaline shouldn’t work as well as it does or be as great as it is, but there you go. What really holds it together are two spectacular, well thought out performances from Blake Lively and Harrison Ford, who take material that could have come across as hokey and do something really special with it. The lush, garden themed cinematography by David Lanzenburg doesn’t hurt either. Adaline Bowman (Lively) isn’t your average one hundred year old woman. Due to some quasi-cosmic rift in reality, she has been stuck at the age of 29 for going on 80 years, and has amassed both a wealth of worldly knowledge and a charismatic gravitas one might imagine would accompany such an odd life path. When she meets and reluctantly falls for handsome Ellis (Game Of Thrones’s Michael Huisman), it’s a predicament as love has never seemed to really work out, given her condition. When she meets his parents (Ford and Kathy Baker) things get downright weird; decades ago, Ford and Adaline were lovers and the aghast look on his face when he sees her waltz in not only with his son but not a day older than he remembers, is truly something to see. Speaking of aghast, the guy they got to play young Harrison Ford in flashbacks is so uncannily similar to the actor in look and voice that I feel like the director just stole a time machine from the government for the film. It’s kind of like the world’s weirdest love triangle built upon a fantasy concept that’s thrown in from hard left field, and as ridiculous as it all sounds, it’s actually quite the subdued, affecting experience. Her name should be Blake Lovely because she’s just that, always a force of radiance in any role she takes (even as the Boston gutter slut in Ben Affleck’s The Town, an angelic vibe snuck through the smeared eye makeup and hoop earrings), she gives Adaline a dignified independence and occupies every second of frame with the character. This has to be one of Harrison Ford’s finest hours too, ditching the smirky roguish charm and going straight for the heart in a turn that’s both vulnerable and rooted in emotion. Ellen Burstyn does fine work too as Adaline’s daughter, now looking freakishly older than her. The story has none of the silliness you’d expect upon reading a synopsis, and if anything is more down to earth than most romantic films thanks to Lively and Ford, as well as the world’s gravest narration from Hugh Ross. The San Francisco setting is actually a cleverly disguised Vancouver, but plays a quaint role in the setting too. This one is a treat.

-Nate Hill