Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
Endless Love has awakened something in me. Not a long dormant passion for an introverted high school classmate, or a sudden desire to break into the zoo after dark. A question about movies — more accurately, about movie criticism. The same question you would ask yourself if you fell drowsy in the middle of Citizen Kane, or welled up during the emotional climax of Just Friends. The question I ask myself now, as I recount the 103 straight minutes of asphyxiating laughter that I endured during a screening of Shana Feste’s would-be romantic drama: What makes a good movie?
We assign deference to some films, disgust to others — a lucky few of us make a living this way. But what, precisely, are we reviewing? A film’s mission or its execution? The product onscreen or the experience of watching it? All factors come into play when considering whether or not a movie “works.” But on rare occasions you’ll get a film that offers no common ground in its meeting of these standards. You’ll get Endless Love, which strives for dramatic sincerity, winds up with underwritten idiocy, and provokes in its viewers an unrestrained, absurdist revelry — the kind of joy you’d otherwise be forced to seek in a third viewing of The Lego Movie. Laughter at the ill-conceived antics and befuddling dialectical patterns of our central teen couple — a Mars native Gabrielle Wilde and her gaping mouthed beau Alex Pettyfer. Elated bemusement at the younger generation’s propensity for chaotic disrobing and didactically organized dance parties. Unprecedented ecstasy at the Mafia movie intimidation tactics of an overprotective dad (Bruce Greenwood) and the brain-dead disregard of a supportive one (Robert Patrick). As a comedy, Endless Love is unstoppable.
I can only hypothesize that it was not Feste’s intention to roll us in the aisles. I have no cold proof that her resolution in paving every nook in her Georgia-set remake with another farcical stone — Wilde’s instantaneous evolution from wordless ingénue to sexually aggressive spirit walker, Patrick’s loving caution-to-the-wind attitude regarding any situation that has to do with a girl, Rhys Wakefield’s “black sheep” character forming an odd amalgamation of Pauly Shore and Charlie St. Cloud — was not one of Wolf of Wall Street-like satire, or reappropriation in the vein of Spring Breakers. Here are two movies that earned scorn from viewers who read them literally, and in turn vehement defense from those who peered through the exaltation of cocaine and firearms into the filmmakers’ ironic intentions.
Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
To the latter community, one to which I subscribe, I ask: if we’re readily willing to dive deeper for Martin Scorsese and Harmony Korine, shouldn’t we grant Feste this benefit? If we’d defend the authenticity of the splendor we recognized in their movies, why am I inclined to write off the very same when present in this year’s Valentine’s Day cannonball? Why do I eagerly laud the merit in Leonardo DiCaprio directing Quaalude-charged tribal chants and relinquishing subhuman treatment upon anyone short a Y-chromosome, while instinctively shafting the invaluable merriment in Pettyfer’s goofily deliberate declaration that he likes to read into the category of happy accident?
But an even more precise question (one I was challenged to entertain by a friend and film critic far wiser than I am), and this time to the former community: does it matter? Did it matter to all those offended by gunplay and intrusive nudity that Korine set out to demonize youth culture and its omnipresent hedonism? Did considering his intentions make the endgame any less a visceral nightmare? If not, does it matter if Feste poured her soul into the machination of a timeless love story, only to produce a riotous cinematic episode that treads genre parody as expertly as anything from the golden age of the Zucker brothers? Does it matter that she didn’t intend for Wilde and Pettyfer’s sex scene to come off as super-hoke, for every mention of cancer to feel like soap opera send-up, or for Robert Patrick’s vindication of his son’s passion for menagerie trespassing to elicit the biggest laugh of a movie yet in 2014?
So long as I consider the power of cinema, I’ll never be sure if it matters. I’ll never be sure of the answers to any of these questions. But no matter where I find myself standing on this issue down the line, I had far too much fun at Endless Love — and entertained far too many questions on the nature of cinema and the way we react to it — to call it a movie that people shouldn’t see.
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Here is the complete list of winners:
Best Motion Picture - Drama
The Aviator WINNER!
Million Dollar Baby
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
Scarlett Johansson, A Love Song For Bobby Long
Nicole Kidman, Birth
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby WINNER!
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. 2
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
Javier Bardem, The Sea Inside
Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda
Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland
Leonardo Dicaprio, The Aviator WINNER!
Liam Neeson, Kinsey
Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Phantom of the Opera
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Annette Bening, Being Julia WINNER!
Ashley Judd, De-Lovely
Emmy Rossum, The Phantom of the Opera
Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture -Musical or Comedy
Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Jamie Foxx, Ray WINNER!
Paul Giamatti, Sideways
Kevin Kline, De-Lovely
Kevin Spacey, Beyond the Sea
Best Director - Motion Picture
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby WINNER!
Marc Forster, Finding Neverland
Mike Nichols, Closer
Alexander Payne, Sideways
Martin Scorsese, The Aviator
Best Foreign Language Film
The Chorus (Les Choristes), (France)
House of Flying Daggers, (China)
The Motorcycle Diaries, (Brazil)
The Sea Inside, (Spain) WINNER!
A Very Long Engagement, (France)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Cate Blanchet, The Aviator
Laura Linney, Kinsey
Virginia Madsen, Sideways
Natalie Portman, Closer WINNER!
Meryl Streep, The Manchurian Candidate
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
David Carradine, Kill Bill Vol. 2
Thomas Haden Church, Sideways
Jamie Foxx, Collateral
Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
Clive Owen, Closer WINNER!
Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
John Logan, The Aviator
David Magee, Finding Neverland
Patrick Marber, Closer
Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, Sideways WINNER!
Best Original Score - Motion Picture
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, Finding Neverland
Rolfe Kent, Sideways
Howard Shore, The Aviator WINNER!
Hans Zimmer, Spanglish
Best Original Song - Motion Picture
"Accidentally In Love" -- Shrek 2
Music & Lyrics By: Adam Duritz, Dan Vickery, David Immergluck, Matthew Malley & David Bryson
"Believe" - The Polar Express
Music & Lyrics By: Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri
"Learn To Be Lonely" - The Phantom of the Opera
Music By: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics By: Charles Hart
"Million Voices" - Hotel Rwanda
Music By: Wyclef Jean, Jerry "Wonder" Duplessis, Andrea Guerra
Lyrics By: Wyclef Jean
"Old Habits Die Hard" - Alfie
Music & Lyrics By: Mick Jagger & David A. Stewart WINNER!
Best Television Series - Drama
Nip/Tuck (FX) WINNER!
The Sopranos (HBO)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama
Edie Falco, The Sopranos
Jennifer Garner, Alias
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit WINNER!
Christine Lahti, Jack & Bobby
Joely Richardson, Nip/Tuck
Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama
Michael Chiklis, The Shield
Denis Leary, Rescue Me
Julian Mcmahon, Nip/Tuck
Ian McShane, Deadwood WINNER!
James Spader, Boston Legal
Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Arrested Development (Fox)
Desperate Housewives (ABC) WINNER!
Sex and the City (HBO)
Will & Grace (NBC)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives
Teri Hatcher, Desperate Housewives WINNER!
Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
Debra Messing, Will & Grace
Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex And The City
Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development WINNER!
Zach Braff, Scrubs
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Matt Leblanc, Joey
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Charlie Sheen, Two And A Half Men
Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made For Television
American Family - Journey of Dreams (PBS)
Iron Jawed Angels (HBO)
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (HBO) WINNER!
The Lion in Winter (Showtime)
Something the Lord Made (HBO)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Glenn Close, The Lion in Winter WINNER!
Blythe Danner, Back When We Were Grown Ups
Julianna Margulies, The Grid
Miranda Richardson, The Lost Prince
Hilary Swank, Iron Jawed Angels
Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or A Motion Picture Made for Television
Mos Def, Something the Lord Made
Jamie Foxx, Redemption
William H. Macy, The Wool Cap
Geoffrey Rush, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers WINNER!
Patrick Stewart, The Lion in Winter
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Drea De Matteo, The Sopranos
Anjelica Huston, Iron Jawed Angels WINNER!
Nicolette Sheridan, Desperate Housewives
Charlize Theron, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Emily Watson, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace
Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Oliver Platt, Huff
William Shatner, Boston Legal WINNER!
The young and idealistic Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) is driven by two forces in his life: airplanes and Hollywood. The Aviator begins in the 1920s as Hughes obsessively works on his silent debut film Hell's Angels which he ends up scraping completely to remake as a talkie thus making it the most expensive film of its time. While embarking on doomed affairs with Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) Hughes also builds a plane that makes him the fastest man in the world in 1935. The millionaire even engineers a new bra to make the most out of Jane Russell's cleavage for his next film The Outlaw while running TWA and building planes for the government during WWII. Yet the mental illness that would consume Hughes later in life begins to rear its ugly head after he breaks up with Hepburn. As does his dogfights with Pan Am's Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) who sics his in-pocket politician Sen. Ralph Owen Brewster (Alan Alda) on Hughes--which coming after the flyboy crashes his experimental spy plane leaves him with only a couple of good fights left in him. Hughes eventually stands up to Brewster's senate investigation and then manages to finish and ceremonially fly the Spruce Goose. But soon he makes his final descent into undiagnosed and untreated madness.
The Aviator provides a bevy of tour de force performances. As the leading man DiCaprio gives us an Oscar-worthy turn as Hughes vacillating easily between the playboy the industrialist the aviator and finally the madman. In seducing a cigarette girl the suave DiCaprio says one of the best lines in the film: "I want to find out what gives you pleasure. Would you give me that job? " which pretty much sums up Hughes' modus operandi. The scenes between DiCaprio and Blanchett as the spirited Hughes and Hepburn are also fun and lively especially in their first meeting on a golf course in which Hepburn talks a blue streak while Hughes quietly admires her. Blanchett does an amazing job emulating the acting legend without doing a strict imitation. The worst performance in the film could be Blanchett's nose which looks nothing like Hepburn's but that's about it. The exquisite Beckinsale also does a marvelous job as Ava Gardner who had a brief and tumultuous affair with Hughes but ended up more his confidant than anything else. In supporting roles Alec Baldwin seems to be settling in nicely as one of Hollywood's favorite heavies playing Trippe's malevolence with a twinkle in his eye. As does Alan Alda who again delivers admirably as the elder statesman of "mean."
Marty Marty Marty. Why can't you make a nice two-hour film like everybody else? It's probably not fair to harp on the film's length but it isn't just long it feels long. Rather than being a cohesive whole director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan deliver a montage of expertly constructed scenes and sequences without giving us a true understanding of who Howard Hughes really was. Perhaps Howard Hughes is just too much of a character for one film. The closest we come to getting inside Hughes' mind is during the breath-taking crash of the FX-11 into a Beverly Hills residential area which is undeniably one of the best crash scenes ever filmed. Scorsese is obviously a master filmmaker but some of his old tricks aren't working here. The patchwork quality of the film is underscored by the director's varying use of different period styles--from a washed out look of a '40s home movie to a vivid contemporary look. Used to great effect in his films such as Raging Bull and Goodfellas now it seems out of place in The Aviator. It's true Scorsese will more than likely get another shot at Oscar gold for The Aviator but if he wins it will definitely be for his vastly superior previous work.
December 18, 2003 12:55pm EST
Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) a novice professor from UCLA lands a job in the art history department at Wellesley College in the fall of 1953 and she's thrilled at the prospect of educating some of the brightest young women in the country. But her lofty image of Wellesley quickly fizzles when she discovers that despite its academic reputation the school fosters an environment where success is measured by the size of a girl's engagement ring. Besides learning about fresco techniques and physics the women take classes in the art of serving tea to their husband's bosses something that doesn't sit well with the forward-thinking Katherine who openly encourages her students to strive for goals other than marriage. Katherine inspires a group of students specifically Joan (Julia Stiles) and Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal) but newlywed Betty (Kirsten Dunst) feels Katherine looks down on her for choosing a husband over a career. Betty goes on the offensive and uses her column in the school paper to drive a wedge between the professor and the stuffy faculty. But while Betty puts on a happily married face her hostility towards Katherine is actually misplaced anger stemming from her miserable marriage to a cheating charlatan.
Katherine is Mona Lisa Smile's most complex and intriguing character and Roberts is a fitting choice for the part. Like an old soul the actress has a depth that's perfect for a character like Katherine who's enlightened and ahead of her time. But Katherine never emotionally connects with any of her students which isn't surprising since they're so bitchy and self-absorbed. Perhaps more time should have been spent developing the young women's characters and building their relationships with Katherine sooner but as it is the underdeveloped friendships between the women will leave viewers feeling indifferent rather than inspired. The worst of the bunch is Dunst's character Betty who is intent on making everyone around her feel unworthy. She has her reasons of course but they're revealed so late in the story that it's hard to suddenly empathize with her after having spent three-quarters of the film hating her guts. Stiles' character Joan is perhaps the most congenial but like Betty she never develops a strong bond with her teacher. The most "liberal" of the girls is Giselle played by Gyllenhaal but the character suffers the same burden as the rest: She's unlikable. Giselle's penchant for sleeping with professors and married men is so odious that not even her 11th hour broken-home story can salvage her character.
While Mona Lisa's smile in Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting has often been described as subtle director Mike Newell's star-studded drama is anything but that; Mona Lisa Smile is so heavy-handed that unlike the painting for which it was named there is nothing left for moviegoers to ponder or debate. The film plays like a montage of '50s ideological iconography: A school nurse gets fired for dispensing birth control; a teacher refers to Lucille Ball as a "communist"; Betty's prayers are answered when she gets what every woman dreams of--a washer and dryer. But the film's critical insight into '50s culture isn't as shocking as it thinks it is and the way it highlights feminist issues is as uninspired as trivial as a fine-art reproduction. Newell also spends too much time basking in the aura of the '50s era focusing on countless parties dances and weddings sequences that while visually ambitious are superfluous. The film may be historically accurate but its characters story and message will leave moviegoers feeling empty. A climactic scene for example in which Katherine's students ride their bikes alongside her car as a show of support comes across as a tool to evoke sentiment that just doesn't exist.