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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Oh, how cruel the singing competition gods are. Not only did their wrath result in the elimination of a relatively promising crooner and a horribly mismanaged group last night, but with his exit last week they denied Jason Brock the opportunity to shine his brightest in a themed night all but tailor-made for him on Wednesday: Diva Night. Somewhere in a more guyliner-friendly alternate universe he totally rocked the house, placed high in the ranking, and emerged as a new contender to win it all. Instead, we’re left to settle for fifth-place finisher CeCe Frey, who previously seemed one pitchy note away from elimination, for our power-ballad fix. Sigh.
It’s fascinating to see how Simon Cowell’s priorities have changed in the decade since American Idol first launched. Now, you could easily argue that the black T-shirt aficionado has always been more a marketer than a producer, more interested in the packaging of his artists than their actual talent. But back in the early days of Idol, he’d routinely diss packaged popstars like Jessica Simpson, and even his current judging partner Britney Spears, for being all-style, no-substance products. Now he seems to have little to no interest in vocal skill at all. Exhibit A: His shameful choice of Paige Thomas over Jennel Garcia.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. First of all, Lyric DaQueen and her funky crew, Lyric 145, got the ax. This is a perfect example of how out of touch Cowell & Co. really are when it comes to hip hop. When Spears made her introduction to television reporters earlier this year and talked the music biz, her declaration of love for rap at the time sounded as if there hadn’t been any evolution in the genre since Cypress Hill. Sure, the very concept of a rapping girl-group may be inherently anachronistic, but Cowell seemed hellbent on reinventing Lyric 145 as a ‘90s Salt ‘n Pepa-style troupe. If Don Cornelius hadn’t passed away last year, he’d undoubtedly have loved the result. So it was obvious that, in the era of motor-mouthed rappers like Nicki Minaj, Lyric 145 seemed hopelessly out of date. Maybe they should next try out for amateur night at the Apollo.
It didn’t help that, according to Lyric DaQueen, the group’s original number was unceremoniously nixed at the last minute by Fox. Instead, they ended performing an oh-so-obvious medley of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and Katy Perry’s “E.T.” Ooh, they both have a stomp-stomp-clap beat, so they’re just begging for a mashup, right?! “We didn’t get the opportunity to show what we really had,” Ms. DaQueen said. “We had original lyrics, and we had a hip-hop song that got snatched away from us at the last minute.”
That left Demi Lovato’s mentees, Paige Thomas and Jennel Garcia, to fight for their X Factor lives. Okay, it didn’t help Garcia that she sang Hoobastank’s “The Reason,” while Thomas belted Coldplay’s “Paradise.” But in every respect, this was a vocals vs. marketing matchup. A showdown between art and product. And product, Thomas, won. Reid and Spears quickly decided to send Garcia home, but Cowell, though he knew his decisive vote would assure her exit, decided anyway to put pressure on Demi to make the reality TV equivalent of Sophie’s choice. And she chose…wisely. Recognizing more actual singing ability in Garcia, Lovato chose to send Thomas home. Not that it mattered, because Simon declared Thomas to have more “star power,” and cast the deciding vote that sent Garcia packing. Considering that peoples' career aspiration were hanging in the balance, it seemed like a cruel and unnecessary stunt--but sadly that kind of thing seems to be X Factor's stock in trade.
In the midst of the heartbreak, Taylor Swift unfurled her whole cheerleaders-and-unicorns thing by performing “State of Grace.” If only Simon had listened to Swift, when she said, after Mario Lopez asked her for her take on reality TV show judging, “No matter how tired you are, or how bad a day you have, be nice to people.”
And that’s a wrap, folks. Here’s the current rankings of the Top 10.
1. Tate Stevens
2. Carly Rose Sonenclar
3. Vino Alan
4. Emblem 3
6. Fifth Hamony
7. Diamond White
8. Beatrice Miller
9. Arin Ray
10. Paige Thomas
Like me, were you disappointed with the outcome last night? And can anything stop Tate Stevens from winning it all at this point?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Fox]
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Set during the Spanish Civil War of the 1940s—a favorite area of exploration for writer-director Guillermo del Toro—the story follows dreamy 11-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as she’s uprooted and relocated to a remote military outpost when her sickly mother (Ariadna Gil) marries the wantonly cruel camp commander Captain Vidal (Sergei Lopez). With the compassionate but secretive housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) as the closest thing to a friend she has in the oppressive environment Ofelia escapes into a richly textured fantasy world. She follows a dragonfly she believes is a fairy into a landscaped but neglected garden maze she recasts as the lair of the goatish godling Pan (Doug Jones). He tells her she’s the last heir to a magical otherworldly kingdom and charges her with several tasks to help her reclaim her birthright. As her personal world grows more and more grim—the impending birth of her half-brother threatens her mother’s health her step-father grows colder and colder in his bid to crush the resistance and Mercedes’ hidden agenda places her in jeopardy as well—Ofelia soon finds herself tangling with hideous monsters both imagined and all too real often having difficulty distinguishing which is the more dangerous. The astonishingly real performance of the amazing young Spanish actress Baquero as Ofelia anchors the film firmly in both its real world and fantasy environments as only the convincing imagination of a child could. Lopez is an equally compelling discovery as the callous Vidal pitiless vicious and malevolent while still remaining believably human throughout. He’s unblinking in his depiction of a thoroughly vile and cruel man but avoids any aspect of cartoonish evil. And Verdu (Y Tu Mama Tambien) as Mercedes is a wonder as well with her remarkably expressive face unlimited by the film’s Spanish language barriers. Kudos too to Doug Jones a whisper-thin actor who specializes in “creature” roles (he’s played Abe Sapien in del Toro’s Hellboy and will be the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four sequel) who somehow magically delivers fully-formed performances as both the faun Pan and the freakish Pale Man through layers and layers of latex. Pan's Labyrinth is unquestionably Guillermo del Toro’s finest film work to date as pure an artistic vision as is likely to be committed to celluloid. He wisely worked outside the Hollywood system in his native Spain to bring his dark tale to life. The story exists in that shadowy netherworld between childhood and adulthood innocence and awareness of the world’s more sinister nature and its characters and themes are explored in ways that no mainstream film would ever allow. On the surface the trappings are Tim Burton-esque but the dark corners Pan's Labyrinth peers into are grim and gloomy indeed; del Toro is never afraid to delve into the murkiest of directions that to audiences used to more conventional movies are heart-wrenching even gut-churning but ultimately emotionally honest and in unexpected ways as immensely satisfying as they are haunting. The film is the announcement of the complete arrival of a major filmmaker and we can only hope that the qualities del Toro brings to this work do not get lost in the maze of Hollywood for future films.