Show Me the Romance

No cherubs. No doilies. No crap.

Archive for the category “Reviews: Movies”

Back in the Saddle after Break

I took a bit of an Easter break the last week–I’m realizing now that I should have announced it beforehand, but since it just kind of happened, and then went longer than I expected, here I am.

I’m queuing up some new shows, movies, and books I want to cover in my Monday Review space, but I would love to get some suggestions for something else I should watch/read.

On a particularly brief note, the original movie version of Fever Pitch (1997, staring Colin Firth and talking about soccer instead of baseball) is on Netflix now.

I watched it.

It had some okay observations on the nature of sports fan-dom and relationships in general, but it was not romantic in the least. If I did a full review for SMTR, it would get a one-arrow.

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Movie Review: No Strings Attached (2011)

No Strings Attached
Movie (108 minutes, R)
Starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher

Two “friends have casual sex and–oops–fall in love” rom-coms came out in 2011, but unfortunately, the more highly regarded one (Friends with Benefits starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake) is not available on Netfix’s streaming service. So how does the other one stack up?

The Premise

Adam and Emma (Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman) have known each other off and on for years when they finally reunite as adults. Adam is still stinging from discovering his ex-girlfriend is now dating his father, and as a full-time resident at an area hospital, Emma has no time, no interest, and no faith in romantic relationships. They decide to distract themselves with casual sex, laying a number of ground rules to keep them from becoming emotionally involved. We all know that won’t last, so the primary entertainment is in seeing how they go from “friends with benefits” to a real couple.

The Pain

This film is unnecessarily raunchy in places. There’s no real nudity, so the R rating rests solely on the dialogue and one rather awkward sex scene. The funniest parts were not even the crude ones. On a larger scale however, the movie fails to really show why Emma is so deathly afraid of emotional intimacy. She keeps turning away from what seems to be a no-brainer relationship with the wonderful Adam, and simply saying her parents divorce fifteen years ago turned her off of love doesn’t cut it. Maybe it turned her off marriage…but dating, too?

The Payoff

Some of the dialogue is fun, and it’s hard not to love Adam’s character. Especially the way he throws himself in headfirst, refusing to let uncertainty rule his decisions the way Emma’s fear paralyzes her. The romance between them works–barely, but it works.

Rating:

3 out of 5 arrows

Movie Review: Possession (2002)

Possession
Movie (102 minutes, PG-13)
Based on the A. S. Byatt novel of the same name.
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart,
Jeremy Northam, and Jennifer Ehle

So I waded into the wilds of Netflix last night, intent on finding a good romance to share on this blog. Unfortunately, I failed miserably. Possession isn’t a bad movie per se, it’s just a bad romance.

The Premise

American research assistant Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart) toils in the dusty backrooms of British libraries and museums until he finds a never-before-discovered love letter from a famous (fictional) Victorian poet named Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam). He soon discovers that Ash—famed for his fidelity to his wife—was actually having an affair with another poet, Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle, of 1995’s Pride & Prejudice). He enlists the help of fellow scholar Maud Bailey (Gwyenth Paltrow) to uncover the whole story of their affair. The movie flows seamlessly between the modern world and 1850’s England.

The Pain

Notice how I don’t mention much of a romance between Paltrow and Eckhart’s characters. That’s because there isn’t really one. They look at each other with awkward attraction, their kiss is kind of out of the blue, and nothing between the two leads me to believe that this attraction between them will last much beyond the inevitable publication of their findings. The scenes of passion and longing between the two Victorian poets resonates with far more authenticity, but again, since I don’t find affairs romantic, that didn’t really float for me either.

The Payoff

The poets’ words—shared while the modern characters read their letters and the poets think them—are quite beautiful and sound authentic to the era. I’m enough of a literary nerd that I enjoyed the process of tracking down these lost letters and the way the characters extrapolate clues from the diaries of people around Ash & LaMotte. Calling this a romantic thriller is a stretch on both fronts, but it’s my understanding that the book succeeds better on both counts.

Rating:

2 out of 5 arrows

Movie Review: Jab We Met

Jab We Met
Movie (142  minutes)
Starring Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor (no relation)

Feeling like getting your romance fix with colorful scenery, bright clothes, and the occasional bout of energetic dancing? Give Bollywood a shot. The crossover hit Bride and Prejudice (2004) introduced many of us to Indian movies, so if you saw that, and didn’t mind the occasional song or impulsive block-party dance breaking out mid-scene, try Jab We Met (available on Netflix’s online streaming service through May of this year).

The Premise

A dejected businessman (Shahid Kapoor) meets a whirlwind of a girl (Kareena Kapoor) on a train. She draws him into her life, exasperating him, teasing him, goading him into a better understanding of himself—until she discovers that her version of reality is not exactly the same as the real world.  Think Forces of Nature, but funny. And with actual chemistry between the leads.

The Pain

Subtitles aren’t for everyone (the film is in Hindi, with the actors slipping English phrases in and out of their speech). The only real pain I can remember is some occasionally draggy pacing. Some of the special effects are—unintentionally—laugh out loud funny. Also, prepare yourself for some maudlin singing sequences. To all these . . . just go with it. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

The Payoff

The leads are so much fun. Geet (the heroine) is a true force of nature. Who can  blame Aditya (the hero) for getting sucked into her orbit. He treks with Geet through the Indian countryside, confronts her hilarious bear of a grandfather, and navigates the wilds of her family all while rediscovering his spirit and his own charming smile. Of course he’s going to fall in love—and with a smile like that, it’s no wonder that she does, too.

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

Movie Review: The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator
Movie (108  minutes)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, and Michael Biehn

You know those action movies that shoehorn a romance between the gunshots as an excuse to put a little TNA into the TNT? This classic from James Cameron isn’t one of them. I saw this movie for the first time a few months ago, and for those of you who tend to forgo action movies because they’re all brawn and no heart, do yourself a favor and go back to this one. The characters and the romance stayed with me for days. I’m not even exaggerating. I read all the wiki pages and imdb.com and when that didn’t satisfy me, I hit the fan fiction pages. It was that good.

The Premise

In the year 2029, a desperate group of humanity’s survivors defeat the machines who tried to annihilate them. The machines send a cyborg killer back in time to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, the young woman who will one day give birth to the human leader. Sarah’s–and humanity’s–only hope rests on the shoulders of Kyle Reese, the man John Connor sends back to stop the Terminator.

The Pain

Sarah (Linda Hamilton) has an unfortunate hairstyle. Um…Kyle (Michael Biehn) looks weird in some frames? What else…I’m trying here. Oh! The time travel continuum stuff is a little hard to wrap your head around. They do a decent job of explaining without getting bogged down in the details, but it isn’t perfect.

The Payoff

This is romance at its most raw. Two people looking at each other like no one else exists, daring to love in spite of a bleak future. This is why I love romance. It’s life-affirming and hopeful no matter what cyborg bazooka-wielding beefcake is on the hunt (in this case it’s Arnold, the best of them all).

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

I would give it five except there wasn’t *quite* enough screen time devoted to the particular subject I’m rating. No knock against the movie itself.

Movie Review: Penelope (2007)

Penelope
Movie (91 minutes, PG)
Starring Christina Ricci and James McAvoy

The French-language poster is better than the US version.

If Penelope had been released in theaters with all the proper promotion, it wouldn’t be a cult hit dependent on word-of-mouth–it would be a hit, period. Reese Witherspoon has produced (and cameoed in) a fairytale for the paranormal set, complete with disfigured ‘princess’ and diamond-in-the-rough ‘prince’. And before you go “Prince? Princess? What is this–Disney for grown-ups?” just hear me out. Penelope is a romance with style.

The Premise

Due to a curse on her rich, blue-blood family, Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci) was born with a pig snout instead of a nose. In an effort to protect her from the scorn of the world, her parents constructed an entire wonderland for her inside their house, and never let her go outside. She’s learned about the world through books and music, and the only boys she meets are the ones who speak to her through a one-way mirror. Apparently, the curse will be broken if she falls in love with her own kind, so her parents parade only well-born boys through their house. Every time twentysomething Penelope shows them her face, they run away in terror…until blue-blood Max Campion (James McAvoy) arrives.

The Pain

The fairytale genre leaves room for some convenient plot turns and over-simplification. Most of the actors chew the screen like silent film stars, but I didn’t really mind that. It fits this satirical fairytale. The romance seemed to sag at the halfway mark, but redeemed itself by the end.

The Payoff

Simple and innocent as this story is, it has more romance than traditional fairytales, and McAvoy brings a believable honesty to his role that elevates this above more traditional fairytale endings. I loved Enchanted (starring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey) but that was a fairytale comedy. Penelope is a romance.

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

Movie Review: The Ugly Truth (2009)

The Ugly Truth
Movie (95 minutes, R)
Starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler

Not everything I review on Show Me the Romance will be Five Arrow knockouts. Case in point: 2009’s The Ugly Truth. It’s about as romantic as its name, and apart from a clever first half, it isn’t even particularly funny. With the exception of one scene, the film played like the dreck most “romantic comedy” entries are—all polish and no emotion. Romance fans aren’t fools, Hollywood. You give us characters who feel real, and a romance that feels right, and we’ll make you filthy rich. Anything else…eh, we’ll catch it when it appears on Netflix’s instant watch option, and only then when we have nothing better to do.

The Premise
Katherine Heigl plays Abby Richter, a scheduled-to-the-nines producer for a San Diego morning show. Her love life amounts to a string of failed blind dates, largely because she conducts third-party investigations into the guy’s background and then scours him with questions more suited to a Dateline interview than a date. When her TV station hires crass relationship cynic Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler) to boost ratings, he devastates Katherine’s preconceived notions of love, first by offending her to the point of fury, and second by proving to her she can’t plan her way through romance.

The Pain
Are we really feeling anything for these characters? It’s like “cue awkward moment” followed by “cue cute blushing awkward moment” and finishing up with “cue accidental tender moment.” While You Were Sleeping this ain’t.

The Payoff
There’s a raw kiss in an elevator that actually cuts beneath the layers of over-processed crap to show that maybe there really are emotions in play, but it’s over too fast and ends too cutsey-awkwardy to maintain the feeling.

Rating: 2 out of 5 arrows

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