Tag Archives: Romance

Dating Amber

[3.5 stars]

The stories we tell don’t change over time, but how we tell them does. And to that point, David Freyne (The Cured) has delivered not so much new ground in this coming-of-age tale, as a new approach. And that makes all the difference.

Fionn O’Shea (Normal People) and Lola Petticrew (A Bump Along the Way) take us through their last year of secondary school which includes personal revelations, experiments, and, eventually, acceptances. Unexpectedly, while told primarily through the scared and challenged O’Shea, Petticrew tends to dominate the screen when she is there. Part of that is the characters, but she also fairly glows with charisma and energy in a way that O’Shea just can’t touch despite his acting chops.

While the two teens dominate the film, there are several smaller performances with depth and impact. Sharon Horgan (Military Wives) has a subtle job as O’Shea’s mother navigating her stressed marriage to Barry Ward (The Fall) and her struggling children. Simone Kirby (Jimmy’s Hall) has a similar challenge as Petticrew’s mother. And, as a bit of running comic relief, Ian O’Reilly (Moone Boy) has some wonderful moments and solid timing.

While set in 1995, this story still applies today because teens have always struggled with accepting themselves and being accepted for who they are. Petticrew and O’Shea tackle their stories with heart and honesty while avoiding most of the ugly that it sometimes causes. But the movie is intended to be on the lighter side, with plenty of warm and funny moments and with an inexorable drive toward joy, however bumpy the road.

You’re probably thinking you don’t need another coming-of-age story, but make time for it. You won’t be disappointed in the film and watching Freyne develop his cinema voice is an extra benefit.

[If you’re looking for some insights after seeing the film, check out these short interviews with Freyne, and this with O’Shea.]

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Uncle Frank

[3.5 stars]

Alan Ball (True Blood, Six Feet Under) tackles the-truth-in-the-quirky  like Aaron Sorkin tackles the-poetic-in-the-mundane. His string of shows and movies all focus on characters, and the beauty and tragedy of life. This outing, literally and figuratively, he tackles the late 1960s life in NYC and rural South Carolina. Two venues that couldn’t be more different then, or today.

But, as always with Ball, part of what makes his stories work is the incredible talent he gets to inhabit those characters. While the story is about Frank, the title clues you into the point of view, which is led by Sophia Lillis (I Am Not Okay With This) as Frank’s niece. Lillis, again, proves she is not only up to the task of a lead, but is capable of wonderful and subtle emotional range. Her family, including Frank played by Paul Bettany (Avengers: Endgame), all orbit around her axis.

Which isn’t to say they are minor or side characters, it is simply that she is the spine around which the whole tale depends. It is her story into which they feed. And it’s a story many will relate to, directly or indirectly. The family is filled out by the likes of Steve Zahn (War for the Planet of the Apes), Margot Martindale (The Hollars), Stephen Root (On the Basis of Sex), and Judy Greer (Halloween).

Completing the cast, in what is one of the most complicated and challenging roles, is Peter Macdissi (Towelhead). Bettany and Macdissi have an easy give and take amid the sturm and drang of their lives. But with little explanation, their history feels obvious and real. And their love for one another is equally palpable.

While this is a story of secrets, they aren’t secrets for the audience, generally. The big things are all obvious. It’s how Lillis’s Beth becomes awakened by them, how she grows and changes because of them, and how she learns to see and appreciate things for what they are rather than how she elevated them. In other words, it’s a tale of growing into adulthood and learning to accept yourself and those around you for who they are. It may be a bitter-sweet journey, but this isn’t a tragedy; it’s a heart-warming tale of struggle and triumph. And one I do highly recommend.

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Ugetsu (Ugetsu monogatari)

[3 stars]

War sucks. Men are greedy. Money’s pointless. Women can save us (at a cost to themselves). Love is forever. Fate’s a bitch.

That about sums up this 1953 adaptation of classic fables by Kenji Mizoguchi in one of his last films. Basically this is a ghost story, in the traditional Japanese sense, which made for some appropriate October viewing.

But I can’t say I recommend the film other than to film buffs or historians. While beautifully filmed, it’s slow, marginally acted, and barely gripping. Some of this is style choice, to be sure. However, that doesn’t mean it survived the years well. This one is definitely a choice you’ll have to make for yourself.

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Tiramisu (Luen oi hang sing)

[3 stars]

For a good part of this story, I was willingly transported on an elegiac fantasy about love and art. Two people meet, by accident, make a connection and then, well, weirdness and the unexpected occur. It is very much a Chinese myth and story, right through to the end. But, this is a modern framing for myths you may know, and some that are made up. It isn’t full-on magic and weirdness, but stays focused on the characters and their relationships, with just enough oddness to keep it all unique.

Dante Lam directs with an open heart and love for the characters and with an artist’s mind. The result turns Kin Chung Chan’s script into something quite beautiful and, often, funny. Nicholas Tse and Kar Yan Lam work well together keeping the story light, but intense. Their side-kicks, Candy Lo and Eason Chan, help kick it along as well, though Chan is more than a little over the top.

For something a little different, with a solidly recognizable thread, this was fun. Though I will admit that it sort of falls apart at the end. I would have laid out the last few moments differently, both for consistency and to carry through the themes, but it still works emotionally. For a light-ish romantic tale with some classic overtones, check it out sometime.

Chef’s Special (Fuera de Carta)

[2.5 stars]

Just how broad do you like your comedy? If you’re planning to come here for a feast, be prepared for something more Chuck E. Cheese than Four Seasons.

If you know me, you know that restaurant movies tend to get my attention. I love the environment and, particularly, watching the food being conceived and prepared. When provided enough of that  I’ll even, usually, give the action and story that surround it a bit of a break.

Sadly, director Nacho G. Velilla (No Manches Frida) couldn’t decide if he was going to give us a farce or a force for change in this tale from the other side of the passthrough. In the end, it’s just an unpalatable melange that barely held my attention and interest. The acting was only a notch above telenovela in its shrill delivery, though the messages and the intended heart were much more human, and the story was an oversimplified mess.

Unfortunately, in the end, this movie is a meal that leaves you wanting. It has neither a believable tale, nor does it give us enough about the food to keep the audience sated. Frankly, if it had been about 25 minutes shorter, I’d be less critical. In its lack of focus, there are a number of storylines and setups for emotional payoffs that just aren’t worth the effort. Coming in at close to 2 hours, the movie just can’t sustain.

Now, if you like broad, silly comedy that occasionally touches down in reality and that has a sort of positive message, this may be for you. It really wasn’t for me.

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Weathering With You (Tenki no ko)

[3 stars]

Makoto Shinkai’s (5 Centimeters Per Second) latest piece of animation plays to his strengths, but is ultimately a little confused and problematic.

Shinkai is devoted to the passion of love; young love in particular. He waxes poetic both visually and in plot chasing that ideal. And his animation is wonderful. That’s enough to pull you along through his tales.

But Weathering, while hitting on those notes well, ends up delivering a confused message about climate change in an alternative Tokyo that isn’t quite thought through. And, frankly, it just isn’t up to the standards of his previous work story-wise. There isn’t enough meat there, nor enough resolution to really sell it all.

All this to say: it’s pretty, it’s well voiced (in both Japanese and English), and it’s certainly inventive in its telling and ideas. But after a tour de force like Your name. my expectations were higher than he could deliver.

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Elegy

[3 stars]

An adaptation of a Philip Roth novel is never going to be a laughfest. Nor is it going to be chock full of particularly loveable characters. But Nicholas Meyer’s (Medici) adaptation, delivered through Isabel Coixet’s (The Bookshop) capable hands, stays palatable and beautiful. Despite any of the darker or distasteful aspects of the main characters, she brings out the humanity of these flawed people.

Ben Kingsley (A Birder’s Guide to Everything) and Penélope Cruz (Broken Embraces) make an odd couple and an odd center around which this story spirals. Kingsley, in particular, has a tough path. He starts as a rather vile, if charismatic, person. He has to win us over to make the story work. For me, he did, though I don’t know that I found the ending entirely satisfying or believable. Still, it reflects the meaning in the title well.

Supporting the couple are a few really great performances by Dennis Hopper and Patricia Clarkson (The Bookshop) as Kingsley’s associates. Peter Sarsgaard (The Magnificent Seven) as his son is less impressive, but plays into the narrative nicely as well. In addition to the main cast, there is a host of faces you’ll recognize in small roles, like Deborah Harry and even some without lines. But why ruin the surprises?

Elegy isn’t a typical romantic film, but it is a film about romance and love. The women are strong, though you may question their choices. And Kingsley’s journey is one many men have to make, though most do so earlier in their lives. His sense of subtle control and deep emotion sells the story, while Cruz’s strength, conviction, and commitment allow it to hold shape. But if it weren’t for Coixet’s vision and ability, this would have been an utter train wreck rather than a contemplative piece that attempts to bridge generations.

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Compassionate Sex (Sexo por compasión)

[4 stars]

A beautiful fable and mediation on love, life, and relationships…with a nod to religion and spirituality. Oh, yes, and it’s funny.

First-time feature director and writer Laura Mañá delivered this multiple award winning film, with unexpected wit and, as you might expect, compassion. It should fly off the rails more than once, and yet she keeps it all within the grasp  of sympathy and understanding. But the main reason for the success is the powerful and vulnerable performance of Elisabeth Margoni at the center of the film and village. Her subtle shifts of expression and emotion will melt your heart and convince you of her genuine intents.

When you’re looking for something a little different, a bit funny, and yet with a message that will surprise you in its delivery, queue this one up. There is a lot of talent to appreciate, and a warm and gooey center to help make your night feel full of possibilities.

Time Freak

[4 stars]

Romance, comedy, and time travel, especially when wrapped in honesty and told with some intelligence, is a triumverate always guaranteed to grab my attention. Unlike the recent Palm Springs, the character intent here is deliberate, but they both deliver the story in a similar way that let’s you connect with it immediately and get on board for the ride.

The story, despite its scope, is really driven by just three characters. Asa Butterfield (Slaughterhouse Rulez) and Sophie Turner (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) are the romantic crux of the story. And while that may sound like an odd combo, it’s supposed to be. And yet the two have a believable chemistry between them. More surprisingly, it comes mostly from Turner’s performance, which is the best I’ve seen her do. I actually believed her completely, something all of her previous performances have lacked for me. Butterfield is playing into his strengths in this film, but does so with heartfelt earnestness that wins you over.

While the main couple certainly carries the story forward and keeps it focused, Skyler Gisondo (Santa Clarita Diet) adds the final element that makes it all work: comic relief and, often, common sense. This is especially amusing as he’s a complete screw-up. This isn’t the basis for comedy I usually enjoy, but it works here due to its restraint and evolution. Even Will Peltz’s (In Time) side character, as extreme as he takes it, manages to find ground often enough to add to the depth of the tale rather than distract from it.

Writer/director Andrew Bowler expanded his Oscar nominated short into this truly delightful and funny exploration of life, love, and relationships. The cleverly written script spends the first third in familiar territory. And, honestly, even if it hadn’t expanded on that, I would have enjoyed the movie thanks to his control of the performances and pace. But it is Bowler’s willingness to try to explore the characters and plot more deeply that makes this particular run at the sub-genre something worth seeing.

When you need something enjoyable and not entirely devoid of logic and intelligence, queue this one up. You won’t be sorry.

The Whistlers (La Gomera)

[4 stars]

Oddball films that really work are hard to find. Corneliu Porumboiu’s Whistlers certainly falls into that category as a delightfully dark comedy that doubles as one of the odder mobster love stories you’ll get to see. It isn’t perfect…in fact I want to slap him around just a bit for not following through on the main conceit, even though he does use it. And, before you ask, yeah, it’s real.

What sets this story apart from so many similar stories of betrayal, dirty cops, and semi-honorable thieves is how the tale is told. Porumboiu fractures the story and tells it with parallel chronologies to make the story as much one of mystery as it is suspense.

Vladimir Ivanov (Toni Erdmann) and Catrinel Marlon (Tale of Tales) are at the center of the story. Ivanov’s even temperament, despite any circumstance, is both amusing and amazing as he sells it every time. And Marlon’s femme fatale approach is both cold and spot on; her sharp intelligence always on display.

The couple are surrounded by a host of interesting supporting characters. Rodica Lazar, in particular, as Ivanov’s boss, is a fascinating and quiet portrayal.

Basically, this is a romp, with dark, Romanian overtones. But is also a comedy, which keeps it all from getting too weighty and uncomfortable. If you haven’t found it yet, and are looking for something a bit different but not too fluffy, this is a good way to go.

The Whistlers Poster