Tag Archives: datenight

The Last Letter From Your Lover

[3 stars]

Yeah, up front, this is a sappy and manipulative movie by design. And I’m fine with that. Director Augustine Frizzell aimed the adaptation squarely at romantics, no others need apply. The story cleverly follows two couples from different periods through the lens of discovered letters and the mystery and curiosity they invoke.

In the 60s we follow a married woman discovering a life and love she didn’t even know was possible. But the relationship between Shailene Woodley (The Mauritanian) and Callum Turner (Emma.) comes across as more an act of desperation rather than a great love affair. Part of that is the period acting, but part is simply the lack of chemistry between the two. Given that our window to them is through letters, it could be a style choice to make it reflect more of a written romance; but many of the scenes are clearly flashbacks so that distance isn’t consistent.

On the other hand, Felicity Jones (The Midnight Sky) and  Nabhaan Rizwan (1917), in current times, are completely compelling as the inevitable couple that Jones refuses to acknowledge. Their mental and emotional dance is instantly tangible, even though neither knows quite what to do about it. We invest in them immediately and want them to succeed.

Outside of the main couples, Joe Alwyn (A Christmas Carol) plays the suitable cad of a husband for Woodley to react against. And the late Ben Cross turns in one of his final performances with a sweet and sad depth that carries all the emotion you wish the couple had had in their younger incarnations.

So find someone you really care about who can appreciate the movie for what it is, and curl up together. It will leave you happy to be in love and not unentertained.

The Last Letter from Your Lover Poster

Supernova

[3.5 stars]

Better known as an actor, Harry Macqueen wrote and directed this quietly intense story that should be recognizable to anyone who has ever been, or ever wanted to be, in a long-term relationship. Despite its framing, it isn’t a story about a gay couple, it’s a story about two lovers in crisis and holding on to one another as they navigate the issues. And he manages to do all this through quiet dialogue and without losing tension.

It’s worth every minute of this movie to follow Stanley Tucci (The Witches) and Colin Firth (Mary Poppins Returns) across the English countryside as they struggle to help one another accept the latest phase of their marriage. Both are wonderfully subtle actors, and the depth of their connection is undeniable.

It’s hard not to watch this and not compare it to The Leisure Seeker. Despite the radically different temperaments of the two movies, they tread the same ground in many ways; that of a deep and abiding love facing mortality. But unlike Leisure Seeker, little happens in this movie and few secrets are revealed. It really is a story about the two talking to each other and their friends. But, thanks to the clever direction and editing, it isn’t in the least boring.

This is definitely one to curl up on the couch with your nearest loved one and consider what it means to spend a lifetime together.

Supernova Poster

A Discovery of Witches (series 2)

[3 stars]

There is a story in here…somewhere between the melodrama and hand-wavy, pointlessly designed magic. It was in the books, but the translation to screen has been frustrating and very much in the soap opera vein. Frankly, the first season was a bit more interesting because there was so much world to explain. But, now that the foundation has been laid, I expected a lot more information than I got this round. Certainly a lot more about how magic works and about the creature histories since that is the focus of the second season’s uber-arc.

Instead, we get serial drama and romantic drivel… which can work if it is part of something bigger, but this season had about half the suspense and tension that the first did. Not what you expect in the middle acts of a trilogy. Most of the issue, outside of the scripts, is that Teresa Palmer (2:22) just doesn’t have the presence to own the show. There is something missing for me. And Matthew Goode (Ordeal by Innocence) keeps substituting intense glower for acting. Both of these characters are massively layered and full of potential, but somehow it all feels silly and without much real power under it all.

There are some nice expansions of character in this season for Edward Bluemel (Killing Eve), but most of the rest have small additions to what we know or expect.

With only one season left (if they cleave to the books), I’m going to hang out to see if they can pay it all off. Also, because they left this series on a collection of annoying cliff-hangers and I at least want to see how they wriggle out of them or not. As a magical, light romance in the vein of Outlander, this will appeal to many. I’m on the fence, but not yet running away, but I do hope there is more meat on the bones for their finale.

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Coming to America (1 & 2)

[3 stars]

As I got ready to watch Coming 2 America, I realized that I’d never seen the original. It was a timing thing when it came out…but I have no answer as to the 33 intervening years. So, I made this one a double feature over two nights…and I was glad I did.

First, yes, they’re entertaining. A bit pushed on the comedy at times for my taste, but always only briefly so I don’t have to give up on the story. Second, they’re really a single movie. The first stands on its own and makes its own points. The sequel tries to stand on its own, but it references so much of the original that it frankly can’t. At least not if you want to get the whole point.

Eddie Murphy (A Thousand Words) and Arsenio Hall reteam seamlessly, as do a number of the original cast. And getting Wesley Snipes (The Recall) was a solid choice for them to bump up against.

And then there was the new generation. Jermaine Fowler (Sorry to Bother You) was a perfect choice for Murphy’s son. His command of comedy and drama, and the ability to flip back and forth between them sells the part, regardless of how silly and forced some of the situations become. Likewise, KiKi Layne (The Old Guard) as his daughter is a powerhouse of a person as well as an injured child.

I, honestly, could have done without some of the broader humor from Leslie Jones (Ghostbusters) and Tracy Morgan (The Boxtrolls), but that’s my taste. There are moments it works, but it just as often threw me out of the story, unlike the barbershop moments which acted as humorous asides.

If you liked the first movie, you’ll enjoy the second just as much. It is a nice evolution of the characters and respectful expansion of the sentiments and intents of the first. Oh, and yes it’s funny and romantic, just like the original. It’s even updated in its thinking in nice ways, and full of amusing cameos.

Coming to America Poster Coming 2 America Poster

The Broken Hearts Gallery

[3.5 stars]

Every once in a while a pure, sweet escape is just the thing. And there is something about romantic NYC fantasies, especially when loaded with good comedy, that makes them infectious. And I mean that in a good way. Like the earlier romcom surprise of Palm Springs, Natalie Krinsky (Gossip Girl) doubled down on all the old tropes and found something new in them.

Geraldine Viswanathan (Miracle Workers) is a ball of energy and wit that never stops. She holds together this movie and manages to keep it grounded even when she’s delivering mile-a-minute monologues. Opposite her, Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things, Power Rangers) redeems himself nicely from all of his previous pretty-boy, obnoxious characters with a soulful guy who just needs to relax and get on with his life.

You can tell how good the flick is by the fact that the supporting performance by Bernadette Peters (Mozart in the Jungle) ends up more a distraction than adding to the whole. She’s a fine choice, especially given the backstory, but she’s too recognizable amid the rest of the cast who hold their own just fine.

And, speaking of, the supporting cast are all a hoot. From the silent Nathan Dales (Letterkenny), the befuddled but self-centered Utkarsh Ambudkar (Blindspotting), and best-friend Arturo Castro (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk), to the girl power collection of Molly Gordon (Life of the Party), Phillipa Soo (Hamilton), and Megan Ferguson (Upload) they all deliver in slightly over-the-top-but-believable ways. And two smaller roles by Suki Waterhouse (Pokémon Detective Pikachu) and Sheila McCarthy (Umbrella Academy) are expertly tipped over the net for impact.

When you’re ready for an escape with lots of belly laughs and even moments of sweet emotion, this is a wonderful choice alone or to share.

The Broken Hearts Gallery Poster

 

Superintelligence

[3 stars]

Sometimes silly is just the ticket. This past year that’s probably a truer statement than most. And Superintelligence is just that: silly. Melissa McCarthy (The Kitchen) trots out all her best gags and reactions, along with a sousant of heart to keep this rocky comedy afloat. James Corden (The Prom) and Bobby Cannavale (Motherless Brooklyn) add some solid buoyancy as well to keep it entertaining and heart-warming.

Where the movie loses its steam is with its director and supporting cast member Ben Falcone (Life of the Party). He still doesn’t quite know when to give up a joke or how to ground broad comedy so that it feels like a story rather than a rim-shot fest. Other than Jean Smart (Watchmen), he has the rest of the supporting players, like Brian Tyree Henry (Child’s Play), Sam Richardson, and even himself doing pratfall comedy. That can work, but in this movie it simply pulls you out of the story at every turn. Which isn’t to say the rest of the movie isn’t broad comedy, it is. But there is an underlying sense of reality that Steve Mallory (The Boss) put into the script that lets you go along for the ride.

But, as I said, sometimes silly is just the ticket for a situation. And silly this is, as well as romantic. It is also almost utterly forgettable as soon as it’s over, but that’s OK too if all you need is some amusing distraction. Cook up some popcorn and settle in for a couple hours of escape when you need it.

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Love Life

[3 stars]

Basically, if you’re an Anna Kendrick fan, this one’s for you. She isn’t the only character in this series, her roomates Zoe Chao (Where’d You Go Bernadette?) and Peter Vack (Mozart in the Jungle) add to the fun, but this is a vehicle that spins around her and her sense of humor. And humor there is.

We follow Kendrick’s search for “the one.” Narrated (yes, yet another show with an unseen narrator) by Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread), we get to relive and cringe and wonder at her choices and situations. Think a more focused, less-soapy Sex in the City. But it is entertaining and does build on itself nicely. And to its credit, it doesn’t take the easy or expected (or even feared) paths.

What we’re left with is a fairly honest, if somewhat idealized, look at life and growing up. It isn’t always pretty, but when you keep moving forward, you actually get somewhere you want to be.

Love Life Poster

Sylvie’s Love

[3 stars]

Are you in the mood for an old-time Hollywood romance? This may be the ticket. It isn’t entirely traditional given the main cast of Tessa Thompson (Men in Black: International) and Nnamdi Asomugha (Hello, My Name is Doris), but it embodies the same sensibility of a young and mis-timed love without devolving into tragedy nor focusing on the social unrest of the era.

Honestly, most of the rest of the cast falls away in the presence of the two leads, which is as it should be. But Aja Naomi King (How To Get Away With Murder), Lance Reddick (John Wick 3: Parabellum) stand out for the depth they add to Sylvie’s world, and Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs) manages a wonderful impact and humor with a small role.

Writer/director Eugene Ashe really knocked it out of the park both in story and feeling. This is a classic tale in its bones, even if the framework is new and refreshing. If you love old Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant tales, but want a new perspective, give this a shot. You won’t be disappointed. Just settle in for a night of possibilities that never falls into the trap of tragedy.

Sylvie's Love Poster

James vs His Future Self

[3.5 stars]

Think of this darkly humorous, self-realization time-travel tale as a more adult, if slightly less polished, Time Freak.  Led with amusing neurosis by a just slightly too old Jonas Chernick, who also co-wrote this romp, James is given the chance to alter his trajectory and have the life he thinks he wanted all along. Familiar territory, but working with his oft-time collaborator, director/writer James Lalonde (Baroness Von Sketch Show), the two crafted a funny, and even surprising at times, story with few boundaries and plenty of entertainment.

The very recognizable Daniel Stern (Shrill) plays opposite Chernick with buckets of cynicism and tons of affection for his younger self. His energy and intensity buoy the movie and carry it along at a fun pace. With the support of Cleopatra Coleman (Last Man on Earth), Tommie-Amber Pirie (What If), and a fun, pivotal role by Frances Conroy (Joker) the story is full of laughs and, at times, cringe-worthy honesty.

There is nothing really new in this script, but it is done well and feels fresh. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet it absolutely tackles the tale with as much rigor as time travel stories can. It’s definitely worth your time if you like such tales. And, even if you don’t, the approach may make it plenty entertaining.

James vs. His Future Self Poster

Happiest Season

[3 stars]

Sure it’s predictable and sappy at times, but for her sophomore film Clea Duvall’s (But I’m a Cheerleader, Veep) holiday offering is a nice balance of the honest and the absurd. It is also primarily women running the show.

At the core of the story are Kristen Stewart (Underwater) and Mackenzie Davis (Irresistible), who’s relationship gets thrown into disarray when they go home to Davis’s family for Christmas. The story then veers between poignant and outlandish moments as Davis and her sibs devolve into their childhoods. Frankly, other than the extremes, not an unusual situation.

Mary Steenburgen (Book Club) and Victor Garber (I’ll Follow You Down) provide the clueless parents driving their children to act out. And Davis is joined by Alison Brie (The Little Hours) and Mary Holland (Homecoming) in the extreme sport of sibling rivalry. It all gets a bit beyond credibility, but anyone with brothers or sisters will recognize the truth in it.

From the sidelines are two important, and more grounded, roles that keep it all on track: Aubrey Plaza (Damsels in Distress) and Dan Levy ( Schitt’s Creek). With the help of these two, Stewart navigates the holiday weekend and finds her own truths and needs. Plaza’s performance is a nice, contained shift for her while Levy is more grounded than usual, but he isn’t bringing anything much new to his performance, even though it still works.

This isn’t a brilliant movie, but it is sweet and funny and at the edges of a holiday tale without shoving it down your throat. Christmas is the background, not the purpose, which makes it all rather palatable. For a warming distraction and a chuckle it isn’t a bad choice for an evening.

Happiest Season Poster