Tag Archives: Romance

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.

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Mad About You (2020)

[3 stars]

Remember that couple you used to hang out with all the time, but then they had a kid and you drifted apart as life pulled you in different directions? Well, the Buckmans are that couple and, with the child about to fly the coup, they’re back. Paul Reiser (The Little Hours) and Helen Hunt (Ride) are still at the center of this odd romantic sort of comedy, but Abby Quinn joins them as their suitably neurotic daughter, and holds her own. Other notables returning are Jon Pankow with a fun storyline of his own that he shares with Antoinette LaVecchia. And Richard Kind (Ride), likewise, with the wonderful Kecia Lewis. Another amusing add, for Quinn’s benefit, is Asif Ali (WandaVision), who delivers his broad humor with incredible precision and confidence.

The season, much like any long comedy set, has it’s weak moments. But Reiser, who wrote a good part of the season, also gave it a particular shape. The dozen episodes hold together for a very satisfying conclusion and pause, setting up another season if that should ever come. If you liked the original run, you’ll slip back into this extension fairly seamlessly. It has all the warts and flaws of the original, but it has evolved to fit in with the times and it has embraced the long gap between our view of their lives. And, as with the original, it stays just meaty enough in its examination of marriage to avoid being easily dismissed.

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Love, Victor (series 2)

[3 stars]

Yes, everyone is still a little too nice and everything is still a little too easy in this series, but I wish there had been a show like this when I was growing up. Because, despite all the young adult, sit-commy tropes, it tackles a wide range of issues head-on that almost no one else has tried. It also manages to finally pull itself free of the confines of the original book to be able to start its own course.

This second season of Victor also broadens its focus. Where the first season was very focused on the stress and fear and wonderfulness of Victor’s struggle to come out, this season tackles the aftermath. And it isn’t all pretty, though it is all well-meaning. And, sure, that’s where things are a bit too easy. But, like the first season, this is a show of hope not trauma. The young LGBTQ+ community needs to know it can go right. And, even when it doesn’t, that there is a community out there for them.

But the show goes beyond that demo to take in growing up as a whole. With several storylines around Victor, as well as some adult struggles, the world expands to something a little more real. I recognize that it’s all manipulative as hell, but it manages to do it in a good and cathartic way that allows you to forgive it.

A renewal still hasn’t been announced, but if they can maintain the quality and trajectory, I’d love to see where they take it next.

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Blythe Spirit (2021)

[3 stars]

Noël Coward is known for his witty dialogue and comedies of manners. He thumbs his nose at society while embracing it utterly as a goal. Pulling off a Coward script requires an open-eyed love of what all that means, and rapid fire repartee with a dry wit.

Dan Stevens (Solos), Leslie Mann (Welcome to Marwen), and Isla Fisher make a wonderful trio to tackle that challenge. Each embodies the 1930s pre-war sensibility nicely, as well as the broad comedy of the story. But even with the assist of the wonderful Judy Dench (Staged), the movie lacks any chemistry between the characters. And without that chemistry it becomes only a collection of performances…it just doesn’t quite work.

The end result isn’t the Twentieth Century or Thin Man it needed to be. It isn’t even Death Becomes Her (with or without all its flaws). Somewhere, shortly into it all, director Edward Hall lost the rhythm and energy. The bottom falls out of the movie and it all just drifts along to a funny, but not punchy ending. Of course much of that has to go at the feet of the new adaptation by the collective that brought us such varied comedies as St. Trinian’s and Finding Your Feet. In their attempt to update the story so it was less arch, they lost the focus and the point. The ideas were great, but they never went quite far enough.

The movie makes for a shortish distraction, with some really nice locations and costumes. And none of the individual performances are bad; there are some truly laugh-out-loud moments. However, while the parts all work, the flick fails to impress on the whole. But with the kind of talent it has on screen, it was certainly worth the attempt even if the end-result fell short. Ah, but what it might have been in better hands or a better matched cast.

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We Are Lady Parts

[4 stars]

Come for the title, stay for the utter hilarity with just enough truth to keep it grounded. In true-to-the-best of Brit humor We Are Lady Parts is part fantastical, part reality, and all heart. And to describe it at all is to blow some of the fun and surprise in this 6-episode first series.

Like other unexpected comedies such as Uncle and Moone Boy, it shouldn’t work, but it really does thanks to the incredible writing and direction of Nida Manzoor’s solid cast of mostly unknowns. Top among them is the band members Sarah Kameela Impey, Juliette Motamed, Lucie Shorthouse, Faith Omole, and our main narrator Anjana Vasan. A couple of better known faces in peripheral characters help it all along as well, especially Shobu Kapoor and Aiysha Hart (A Discovery of Witches).

Suffice to say it a fun and sympathetic look at a culture that rarely gets that treatment. And a bit of female punk rock to boot. At 22 minutes an episode, it isn’t a huge investment to find out if this is for you or not. I highly recommend giving it a try.

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Lucifer (The end, sort of…)

[3.5 stars]

This has been a delayed post because there just wasn’t any rush to get it out there. It isn’t like it was the end of the series or anything. In fact, it’s become a bit of a joy and a joke that Lucifer keeps getting a series finale reprieve. First on broadcast, and now multiple times on Netflix. This latest series (#5, part 2), was originally intended to bring a final close to our anti-hero’s story…before, again, it was granted a final 10 episodes coming later this year. And you can see the shape of the season shift a little as they realize they’ve more to say and are going to be allowed to say it. At least if you know what you’re looking for.

All that said, Lucifer continues to find its real venue on Netflix. Had it started there, rather than languishing on broadcast for a few seasons, it may have found a larger audience as they could have explored more and been truer to the original characters and situations. This second half of the season barrels to a clear ending that still manages to surprise in both delightful and shocking ways. While some characters are seeing their stories finally explored, like Kevin Alejandro, others are being slightly rewritten to meet the new goals, particularly Aimee Garcia, but nothing that doesn’t seem to work.

Overall, the wrap-up to the season is a great ride and with an interesting (if inevitable) springboard for the (maybe) series finale coming soon.

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In the Heights

[3 stars]

A story about finding and realizing your dreams, big and small, yours and others, deserves to be told in music. It is no wonder this caught the imagination of Broadway back in 2008. It isn’t just a quintessential NYC story, it is a very human story whether you’re a recent immigrant or not.

There were moments that I wondered if Lin-Manuel Miranda (Mary Poppins Returns) wasn’t being too indulgent with the scope of the story; it is a long tale. But he uses all aspects of the pieces he lays out, and each fits together to provide a fuller picture at the end. Basically, trust the story-teller, he knew what he was doing.

Anthony Ramos (Honest Thief) carries the energy of the story well, if a bit light-heartedly. He is guileless and, often, clueless about how to approach what he really wants. Then again, part of the tale is him figuring that out, as it is with so many of the characters. Melissa Barrera (Vida) makes a wonderful object of his affection, and her personal interactions are great…though her drive to her own dream is somewhat washed out and weak for me. On the other hand, Leslie Grace has a thorny path that she treads well and shares beautifully for the screen as she struggles with her own doubts. She and Corey Hawkins (6 Underground) play well together as a couple, while she and Jimmy Smits have some very real engagements about life and family.

There are tons of additional characters filling out the Heights. Each gets a moment or two on their own. And all come together more than once to express joy or frustration together as a community. Of them Olga Merediz and Daphne Rubin-Vega are worth calling out for their presence and impact. But as a whole, the cast is solid and capable. All the voices are great and the choreography is inventive and fun (and occasionally a bit distracting, truth be told). Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) had a blast adapting the stage version and managed, for the most part, to make it feel like it was always intended for film with his direction.

Miranda also, despite the fantasy aspects of the story, allowed his characters moments of reality to keep it all grounded, providing windows into the real world. Which he then, of course, peanut butter’s over with great tunes and dance to take out the sting. The overall impact is as close to Fiddler on the Roof that I’ve seen in a long time. Few other musicals try to tell the story of a whole people (or peoples) and manage it with a full range of emotions. Heights isn’t at the level of Fiddler; the scope is more narrow, more personal. It tells parts of several people’s stories in a way that creates a pastiche of the experience and realities. However, it never fully acknowledges or tackles the whole ugly mess…it is more Hollywood musical (think La La Land) than off-Broadway life lesson. Still, it’s an entertaining love story and peek inside the lives of people who are so often unseen.

But, if you’re wondering why I haven’t rated it higher, it’s because it didn’t embrace some of the darker aspects of the stories we hear. Even though the script claims that not all dreams are fulfilled and not all endings are happy, Miranda couldn’t really stop himself from trying to make it that way. And I understand he wanted a celebration of life, but it made it feel too easy for me, which made the story less credible and less revisitable. Of course, others will have different reactions, or even prefer that approach, and that’s fine. Either way, you should take the trip north on the 1 train at least once at some point. And stay till the end of the credits for an extra, and amusing, scene.

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Castlevania

[3.5 stars]

Honestly, I thought I’d written about this series in the past; I’ve certainly talked about it to folks. Now that it’s wrapped up, I guess I can tackle it all at once.

Based on the video game by the same name, there is little doubt as to what you’re jumping into here: Vampires. Lots of them…and magic, demons, armies, religion, well, you get the idea. A revisionist medieval tale that features Dracula. The target audience here is decidedly adult. It’s not even a little bit kid-friendly and honestly a bit over the heads of most teens to boot. And it’s frankly jaw-droppingly good at times, and just shocking at others. The voice talent corralled for the series is top notch as well.

The journey of the four seasons is more complex than you might expect. It grows from a single, tragic event and then unspools in multiple directions. All of it comes back together. The final season is a slightly rushed as it wraps up all the various threads, but how the pieces come together is really a thing of beauty. And all the bitter-sweet conclusions leave it all feeling fully satisfying and complete, if a tad manipulated at points.

If you’re looking for something different and really intriguing, this is a nice ride with a lot of meat to it, and not a little bit of blood.

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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.

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Songbird

[3 stars]

What better way to mark the lifting of so many pandemic restrictions than by watching a flick about what might have happened (or may still) if things swing in the other direction? Songbird is one of those inevitable movies based on the current disaster…and it makes about as much sense as a rushed-to-market flick can do. Basically, it’s a suspense/action/romance that traces three intersecting tales.

The primary thread follows K.J. Apa (The Hate U Give, Cul de Sac) and Sofia Carson as separated lovers. They are the heart of the tale, literally, and are about as sappy as you probably think they are.

In parallel, Bradley Whitford (Godzilla: King of Monsters) and Demi Moore (Brave New World) are an established couple trying to hold on to what they have and protect their daughter during the decay of society. They’re a bit arch, but Moore manages to find some interesting moments and levels.

And, finally, there is the odd internet relationship of Paul Walter Hauser (BlacKkKlansman) and Alexandra Daddario (Baywatch) that is intensely disturbing and uplifting at the same time.

And tying them all together is Peter Stormare’s (American Gods) power-drunk official.

The performances are all fine. And they even all work together well, though Whitford has done better and Hauser had a bit of a broken sort of structure to his story. But it will keep you watching and curious as to the path to the inevitable outcome.

I have to say that I could, by squinting, make sense of the title, but it really isn’t a great moniker…and, because of one of the main threads, it’s actually more confusing rather than, perhaps, dual meaning-ed.

Director and co-writer Adam Mason did fine, but a bit more time honing the tale to get it tighter and work through some of the problematic logic wouldn’t have hurt. As it is, it’s a good B-grade flick for a rainy night or afternoon. But not much more.

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