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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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Thousands of mourners gathered Friday in Manhattan for a funeral procession and memorial service for the late singer Aaliyah. Celebrities such as Sean "Puffy" Combs, Mike Tyson, Lil' Kim, Missy Elliot and Jay-Z attended. Aaliyah's casket was displayed in a horse-drawn carriage with glass sides, followed by five limousines draped in flower arrangements. Twenty-two white doves were released into the air following the service at St. Ignatius Loyola Church. Aaliyah died Aug. 25 in a plane crash in the Bahamas.
Walker, Texas Ranger star Chuck Norris and wife Gena welcomed twins on Thursday: a boy, Dakota Alan, and a girl, Danilee Kelley. Though the twins were born a month premature, there were no complications, according to The Associated Press.
Carson Daly's latest request: for Motorola to pay him $1 million. The MTV VJ, host of Total Request Live, Daly is suing the electronics company for allegedly backing out of an advertising deal for Daly to promote Motorola's line of cell phones. Motorola claims it could not pay Daly the sum due to economic woes within the company. A Motorola spokeswoman told AP that no contract between Daly and the company existed.
The five cast members of CBS' Becker who have disputed their contracts with the show's production company, Paramount Network Television, have settled their conflict out of court. According to Reuters, the fivesome--Terry Farrell, Alex Desert, Shawnee Smith, Saverio Guerra and Hattie Winston--filed suit against Paramount on Tuesday, but all parties have reached an undisclosed agreement. Paramount issued a statement on the matter, saying that the five actors simply suffered from "misunderstandings and miscommunication regarding Paramount policy."
Actress Anne Heche will speak about her long history of mental instability with Barbara Walters on Wednesday's installment of 20/20. According to ABC reports, Heche will reveal that she suffered traumatically from years of sexual abuse by her father and that she has an alter ego, named Celestia, who's from another planet and speaks to God. Heche also will reveal that she was insane during her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres.
Elizabeth Taylor, Nicole Kidman and model Claudia Schiffer scolded the world's young people Friday for turning their backs on the AIDS epidemic, according to Reuters. ``It is the most powerful thing in my life and I will fight until there is a cure,'' Taylor said at the Venice Film Festival. Speaking about today's youth, she said, "They don't like to use condoms because it doesn't feel so good. But death feels even worse." Kidman, however, soon let her thoughts turn to ex-hubby Tom Cruise. When reporters at the festival asked her what sort of man she's looking for now, the actress dissed Cruise by saying, "I'll take a tall man."
Singer Victoria Beckham, best known as Spice Girl "Posh," has told Reuters that she blames former Spice Girl Geri "Ginger Spice" Halliwell for instilling a weight-problem insecurity within her, going so far as to say: "Geri would say things such as don't put sauces on food, that low-fat things were just as good and that I could try not eating so much.'' Because of Halliwell's scrutiny, Beckham said she began to not eat altogether while the girl group was still together.
The article of clothing that embodied Sex Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten's political philosophy--the famous "Anarchy" T-shirt--will go on the auction block Sept. 20 at Sotheby's. The white cotton shirt is expected to nab about $4,350. The shirt is part of a collection owned by Helen Wellington-Lloyd, who once lived with Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, Reuters said.
The good, bad and the ugly on the tube this past week:
Alexander's finger lickin' good
Ex-Seinfeld star Jason Alexander appeared Sunday in the first of a series of new commercials for fast-food restaurant KFC. Good for him. While Alexander's raking in the bucks for the new national campaign--and starring in his own new sitcom, ABC's Bob Patterson, in the fall--his former Seinfeld cohorts seem to have vanished from the tube altogether.
Michael Richards made a half-hearted attempt last fall with his own new sitcom, but it appears he's taken the cancellation of that show to heart, lying low. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been planning a sitcom of her own, but can't seem to get it off the ground. Good ol' Jerry shows up now and then for talk show interviews--and has been toying with the idea of a new sitcom, as well-but just don't expect to see him on the small screen anytime soon.
At least Alexander's got his head on straight: even if his sitcom fails, as Richards' did in 2000, he's got a steady paycheck from the Colonel in his pocket.
The "Becker" bailout
So there's a new trend on the sets of TV's most-watched shows. Nope, it's not this "reality" business. It's not this gameshow craze either. It's a revolution among supporting cast members, and it's getting out of hand. On Wednesday, five supporting actors on CBS' hit show Becker were curiously absent from the first script read-through of the fall season, claiming they were all sick. The actors--Hattie Winston, Terry Farrell, Alex Desert, Shawnee Smith and Saverio Guerra--appeared to be protesting their contracts with Paramount TV, demanding a drastic pay hike, according to the actors' reps.
This tactic was used to perfection earlier this summer by four members of NBC's The West Wing. Four Emmy-nominated actors: Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer and Bradley Whitford. Each more than doubled their salaries. However, the Becker five are not Emmy nominees. They are not recognizable. I could have spelled his or her names incorrectly and nobody would know the difference. Wise up, guys. Go to work.
A hipper Charlie Rose?
You hear the words Charlie Rose and instantly an image pops into your head. Nice suits, nice hair, a dramatic black backdrop, a dramatic politician sitting across the table. But Charlie's not as stiff as you'd think these days. On Tuesday, while interviewing talk show host/comedian Bill Maher, Rose passionately argued in favor of the Internet and all of its uses, while the usually hip Maher admitted he has no use for the Web at all--and doesn't even know how to use it. So the next time you see a fairly liberal Democrat in your next chatroom, well, ya just never know....
There was a time when watching a syndicated show on F/X meant you were watching Aaron Spelling drivel. Not anymore. The network recently announced that it has secured exclusive cable runs of three of TV's biggest shows: The Practice, Ally McBeal and Buffy. Score one for the little guys. The three shows begin running on Sept. 24.
New timeslot for "Big Brother II"
CBS will change timeslots for its struggling series Big Brother II: from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Eye Network execs attributed the move to the show's controversial content--including a knife-wielding incident that got one houseguest booted off the show--in an effort to keep younger viewers from seeing such occurrences. Very compassionate. However, earlier this year, when Survivor was airing (at 8 p.m., mind you), we saw pigs slaughtered, babes in bikinis and heard the word bitch about 80 times an episode. Is CBS really that concerned that Big Brother II's corrupting the minds of youngsters--or is this a last-ditch effort to attempt to better the show's flaccid ratings?
Wednesday night, the scent of aerosol filled the skies above New York City. The '80s had returned. As MTV celebrated its 20th anniversary on the tube, rockers such as Billy Idol and Bon Jovi cranked out their old-school hits to an adoring crowd. When's the last time you saw a group of fortysomethings chanting the lyrics to "Rebel Yell" and "You Give Love A Bad Name"? By Thursday morning, these audience members likely returned to their law offices and accountants' cubicles, but for a couple hours, they shed two decades of aging and adulthood. It was surreal, but strangely poignant.