Thursday, February 27, 2014

Film Review: A Countess From Hong Kong

"A Countess From Hong Kong"  **** (out of ****)

It was with some trepidation I walked into Charlie Chaplin's final film "A Countess From Hong Kong" (1967). For me, that is quite an odd statement. I regard Chaplin as the greatest comedy film-maker of all time. The greatest thing to happen to the movies since the invention of the camera. He is a giant in cinema. A name that should forever be appreciated and respected. His work should never be forgotten.

So why have trepidation about the movie? It has taken a beating from the public and movie critics, who in their infinite "wisdom" disregarded the movie upon its initial release. Though my affection for Chaplin would eventual lead me to the movie. I couldn't hold it off any longer. For better or worst I had to see what the fuss concerning "A Countess From Hong Kong" was all about. Even if it would sadden me to see this great film-maker apparently direct a disaster such as this movie.

There's a reason I am generally suspicious of the American public's taste in movies. "A Countess From Hong Kong" is one of those reasons. I simply find audiences and the critics "over do it". They criticize too easily, they are overly dramatic in their dismissal saying things like "worst movie ever made". "A Countess From Hong Kong" struck me as an enjoyable, light (very light) romance with some wonderful comedic situations. The two lead actors; Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren, surprised me in their ability to act in comedy. The movie moved along briskly and I enjoyed the dialogue written by Chaplin which is peppered with subtle jabs and zingers.

Watching "A Countess From Hong Kong" I immediately noticed Chaplin's visual technique in the movie. It is shot in a rather old-fashion style. It is more fitting for a 1920s comedy. It is very much like a bedroom farce, with characters running in and out of bathrooms hiding from jealous spouses. At one point Chaplin even speeds up the camera so the characters appear to be racing to hide. It is an old technique used in silent slapstick comedies. It is peculiar Chaplin decided on this visual style. It is almost as if he didn't know how to work in the sound medium. He had of course made "sound pictures"; "The Great Dictator" (1940), "Limelight" (1952) and "A King In New York" (1957). This style bothers a lot of people. By 1967 no doubt this was an "old-fashion" picture in a "modern world". Film techniques were changing. This was the time of independent cinema. John Cassavettes, "Easy Rider" (1969), "Midnight Cowboy" (1969), storytelling was moving in a new direction.

Despite popular opinion Chaplin's decision to shoot this as an old-fashion, sentimental comedy doesn't bother me at all. The movie was made by Charlie Chaplin. What were audiences expecting? The man made silent films. Were they expecting new, cutting edge, innovative techniques? Did they expect Chaplin to revolutionize cinema and carry it into the 1970s? Was everyone taking acid?

If anything bothers me about "A Countess From Hong Kong" is it that the comedy is played up too much and there is not enough romance. This is surprising. Chaplin was a man often accused of injecting too much pathos into his films. Many have said Chaplin wanted the audience to love him and went to desperate extremes. That is why I love his movies. They go beyond laughs. They make us care about the characters. We do love them. We grow an attachment. What will happen to them. One of my favorite ending scenes from a Chaplin film is "Modern Times" (1936). We see two characters (the Tramp and the Gambit, played by Paulette Goddard) walking into the sunset together. They don't know where the road will lead them but wherever it takes them, they will go together. The song "Smile" (written by Chaplin) plays in the background. It is very emotional. That level of humanity, that warmth is missing here. There aren't enough touches of romance. That is the only valid criticism of the movie in my estimation.

In the movie Marlon Brando plays Ogden Mears, an American diplomat who has hopes of becoming Secretary of State. He is someone who gives speeches on world peace and how mankind needs to unite in this atomic age. It sounds a lot like the real Chaplin who made similar speeches in "The Great Dictator" and "A King In New York". Ogden is in Hong Kong, where we learn several countesses from various countries are living as refugees after the two world wars. One of them is a Russian countess, Natascha (Loren).

On Ogden's trip back to America, he discovers Natascha hiding in his closet as a stow-a-way. She wants to escape to America, even though she has no passport. Ogden would like to avoid a scandal, since he is getting a divorce from his wife, Martha (Tippi Hedren) and wants to keep his name out of the papers. Bringing a stow-a-way into the country will only complicate things for him. Now he must hide her for the remainder of the trip. To help him do this he confides in his friend, Harvey (Sydney Chaplin, Charlie's son).

If this were a straight romance I might understand Chaplin's decision to cast Brando and Loren but the movie has comedic touches. These two people, while major stars, just don't seem correct for comedy. But they both live up to the challenge. I found them humorous in their roles. I can't recall laughing out loud but they seemed to have a natural flair for comedy. Neither actor embarrassed themself. I prefer this movie to another one Brando had released the same year, "Reflections In A Golden Eye" (1967) directed by another giant of cinema, John Huston.

For Chaplin's swan-song this may not be the movie you were expecting from him. He has a brief cameo on-screen as one of the ship's employees, in a scene I didn't like very much. The camera sways back and forth, trying to convey the motion of the ship as it is in chopping water. For a silent film it may have added to the comedic effect, but with sound all Chaplin had to do was use the sound of the waves and cut to it (which he does). It is very well-written and sharp. If I were a movie critic in 1967 I'd defend the movie and call it one of the year's best. The public has really went too far in dismissing this fine picture.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Film Review: The Wind Rises

"The Wind Rises" *** (out of ****)

"The Wind Rises" (2014) is an Oscar nominee in the animated feature film category at this year's Academy Awards directed by the legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.

There have been reports, even by Miyazaki himself, that "The Wind Rises" will be his final feature film. Although Mr. Miyazaki has made this claim before when "Ponyo" (2009) was released. Still, if Mr. Miyazaki is sincere, it will be a great lost for the world of cinema.

I don't consider "The Wind Rises" a masterpiece as some are shouting. It is however an interesting, beautifully conceived film, which does showcase the exquisite style of Mr. Miyazaki's visual artistry. There are truly masterful moments which make "The Wind Rises" something film fans should see.

I first discovered the work of Mr. Miyazaki thanks to Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, whom at one time championed Miyazaki's work. Twice he placed his films on his annual top ten list; "Princess Mononoke" (1999) and "Spirited Away" (2002). It was these films which were my introduction into the world of Hayao Miyazaki and I have never looked back since. Even I have placed one of Mr. Miyazaki's films on my own top ten list, the Oscar nominated "Howl's Moving Castle" (2005), which I regard as his greatest achievement.

"The Wind Rises" is a bit out of the norm of Mr. Miyazaki's work. Normally his films revolve around a young, sometimes precocious, strong willed female character. Aviation is also an important element in his work. He likes to make films with an anti-war message and films which promote a pro-environmental theme. Here in "The Wind Rises", we follow a male character, Jiro Horikoski (voiced in the English dub version by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is a bit older than most characters in a Miyazaki film. Jiro designs zero fighter planes during WW2. Given the story-line aviation is significant to the plot. The film also points out the destruction these planes caused, pushing an anti-war theme as well.

Jiro, even as a young boy, loved aviation. His hero is an Italian designer, Caproni (Stanley Tucci). Jiro sees true beauty in planes and since he has bad vision, he can never fly them. Through his imagination, Jiro and Caproni meet in his dreams and Caproni offers inspiration to Jiro, encouraging him to follow his dreams.

The main focal point of the story is what lead Jiro to design the zero fighter planes. Jiro is not interested in war. He only wants to make beauty but he knows what these planes will be used for. He knows the destruction they will cause. And as an American audience watches this movie, we know who the Japanese will be using these planes against.

Mr. Miyazaki also throws in a love story into the mix. Jiro falls in love with Nahoko (Emily Blunt), a young woman with tuberculous.

"The Wind Rises" would make a nice double bill with "From Up On Poppy Hill" (2013), which was written by Mr. Miyazaki and directed by his son, Goro. They offer two completely different messages, yet I still see a comparison. "From Up On Poppy Hill" argues we need to preserve the past. Tradition is important, whereas "The Wind Rises" says we need to move forward and not live in the past. Of the two messages I prefer "From Up On Poppy Hill"'s, which I was able to relate to on a deeper level.

Much is made of the economic and social conditions in Japan during this period. Jiro and his friend, Honjo (John Krasinski) are frustrated with the poverty they see in Japan. Why is Japan so far behind with the times? How can Japan grow and move forward and keep up with the rest of the world? How can it become an innovated leader?

These are serious questions. "The Wind Rises" is a serious bio-pic. And that is what keeps me from enjoying the movie more. It is similar to something I said about Miyazaki's "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" (1984). It is almost too realistic. I like animated movies to feed on my imagination. To be fanciful. Mind you there are exceptions to the rule - Isao Takahata's "Grave of the Fireflies" (1988) is an example. It is a heartfelt story of two orphans during WW2. Even "From Up On Poppy Hill". The difference is I was emotionally drawn into those stories on a level I wasn't drawn into watching "The Wind Rises".

But, this brings about an interesting topic. Can animation tell serious stories? Absolutely. I just gave two examples. There was also a brilliant Israeli film "Waltz with Bashir" (2009), dealing with the Israeli-Lebanon conflict of the 1980s. Animation has no bounds. It doesn't have to be strictly for children. "The Wind Rises" is not necessarily for children. Animation can have an adult appeal. A lot of it has to do with our culture. In America we tend to think of animation being Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny cartoons. In Japan for example it is different. Mr. Miyazaki's films rank among some of the country's highest grossing films of all time. "Spirited Away" grossed more than "Titanic" (1997)!

Yet, in complete contradiction to my previous paragraph, there was something about "The Wind Rises" which stopped me from enjoying it more. All I could think of is it is almost too real. It is not unlike a conventional live action biographical film. It becomes a little dark when it deals with Nahoko and her sickness, that doesn't bother me, but parents should consider this when taking children.

In addition to its Oscar nomination the film was also nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and won the National Board of Review award for best animated feature film.

I hope this isn't Mr. Miyazaki's final film. I hope he thrills audiences one more time. If not, even though I don't think this is a masterpiece, Mr. Miyazaki has left us with a masterful legacy to marvel at.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Film Review: That Hamilton Woman

"That Hamilton Woman" *** (out of ****)

"That Hamilton Woman" (1941) is an Oscar nominated love story starring the real life married couple Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, directed by the Hungarian producer/director Alexander Korda.

"That Hamilton Woman" falls into the two themes my reviews this month have focused on; love stories (in honor of Valentine's Day) and past Oscar nominated and winning films. The movie scored a total of four Academy Award nominations including best cinematography and art direction and won one award for best sound.

There are those who defend the movie feverishly calling it a masterpiece and one of the screen's great romances. I don't quite agree although I do think it is a fine film. A movie I would recommend people see.

The movie is based on a novel by E. Barrington, who goes uncredited here, and was filmed once before in the silent film "The Divine Lady" (1929) which also won an Academy Award and was nominated for a total of three.

I do not think "The Divine Lady" is a masterpiece either. It is a somber, heavy-handed romance. Still, there are elements of that movie which I do enjoy. And, there are elements of "That Hamilton Woman" that I enjoy. What would have made "That Hamilton Woman" a better movie would be if it took what "The Divine Lady" did well and combined it with what this movie does well. Then I think you would have a masterpiece.

In "The Divine Lady" they do a better job establishing who our heroine is, Emma (Leigh). In that movie we see her work as a servant for a man she would eventually fall in love with. He would turn her into "a lady". But, he did not share in Emma's love and so, in an effort to ensure an inheritance from a rich uncle "offers" Emma to him, promising Emma he will return to her.

These moments in "The Divine Lady" are told with much humor and lively performances, taking up about half of the picture. In "That Hamilton Woman" they completely skip all of this and throw us right into Emma traveling to Italy to live with the rich uncle, Sir William Hamilton (Alan Mowbray), who is an English Ambassador. Emma is under the impression she will only be living there for the summer but Sir Hamilton informs her otherwise and reveals the truth to her. Initially hurt and heartbroken Emma turns the situation into her advantage and marries Sir Hamilton and has what the audience presumes is a loveless marriage, though there is a mutual kindness and consideration for each other.

Living with Sir Hamilton Emma leads a life she could have only dreamed of, a life full of luxury. Of course love is missing. Enters Lord Horatio Nelson (Olivier) a navy captain, who catches Emma's eye. They engage in a love affair, even though both are married. In "The Divine Lady" this is slowly revealed to us as a dramatic surprise in "That Hamilton Woman" it is casually mentioned without much surprise. A bad decision on the filmmaker's part.

"That Hamilton Woman" is definitely a nice film to look at. It is visually more impressive than "The Divine Lady". That acting is better. The production design and a costumes are better. The musical score is better. Technically it is an achievement. But, emotionally I wasn't drawn in completely. It doesn't feel like a great romance to me. It doesn't seem to make a strong enough comment on the morals of the day and how this love affair was treated by society. I didn't feel I was watching a tragic love story of how society keeps these lovers apart. I didn't feel it was a movie which showed two lovers challenging social conventions of the day either.

Vivien Leigh played the poor woman in a great romance prior to this movie, "Waterloo Bridge" (1940) and the carefree nature of her character reminded me of perhaps her most famous role in "Gone with the Wind" (1939). Leigh was a nice choice for the character. She was a screen beauty, so it is easy to see why men would fall under her spell, and was a great talent. She had a natural screen presence. You simply look at her when she is on-screen. She commands your attention.

Laurence Olivier on the other hand I have always regarded as the greatest actor of all time. Watch him in the charming British comedy (produced by Alexander Korda) "The Divorce of Lady X" (1938) or the Jane Austen adaptation "Pride & Prejudice" (1940) or his turn as actor/director in the Academy Awarding winning "Hamlet" (1948). Not to mention one of the great screen romances "Wuthering Heights" (1939). He had an ability to blend into any role he played. You accept him as every character he played, no matter how diverse the roles. What better compliment can I give an actor?

And now a word about the director, Alexander (though sometimes credited as Sandor, which is how you say Alexander in Hungarian) Korda. Born in 1893 in the town of Pusztaturpaszto, Hungary, he is often recognized as the "father of British cinema". He started off as a journalist, writing what is recorded as the first film review in Hungary in 1914 for the magazine "Pesti Mozi". He would later go from journalist to screen writer, directing several films in Hungary starting in 1914.

He would travel to America and make some movies, "The Stolen Bride" (1927) and "The Squall" (1929) among them, though he made his greatest impact in Britain where he directed "The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) and "An Ideal Husband" (1947).

"That Hamilton Woman" is a well made, finely acted film that doesn't quite feel like an epic love story to me though is still entertaining.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Film Review: The Confrontation

"The Confrontation"
*** 1\2 (out of ****)

With the death of the influential Hungarian film-maker Miklos Jancso I wanted to write a review as a tribute, even though I did write a "tribute article" on Jancso for the Hungarian newspaper "The Budapest Times". But I wanted to review one more movie of his.

Jancso was part of the "Hungarian New Wave", as it was called in America, in the late 1960s-early 1970s, along with fellow Hungarian film-makers Istvan Szabo, Karoly Makk and Marta Meszaros (Jancso's ex-wife). Jancso was a deeply political film-maker, comparable to Jean-Luc Godard in the "French New Wave". Jancso's films focused on historical times in Hungary's history as a way to comment on current conditions. There is actually a term to describe this - "aesopian". Most critics and the general public, tried to interpret Jancso's films as commentaries on the 1956 Uprising, as the Hungarians tried to force the Soviets out of Budapest. It was a failed attempt. But, it remains perhaps the single most important moment in modern Hungarian history. All I need say is '56 to a Hungarian and they understand.

In "The Confrontation" (Fenyes Szelek, 1968) Jancso doesn't go as far back as some of his other works. This time the setting is post WW2, 1947 to be exact. So most audience members watching the film in theatres could recall these times. Unlike say the subject matter for "The Round Up" (Szegenylegenyek, 1966) which was the Hungarian revolt against the Austrians in 1848. "The Confrontation" also marked the first time Jancso shot a movie in color.

At this time in history, the Soviets have already advanced through the Eastern Bloc to get to Germany. The war is over, the Soviets stayed and thus the beginning of the cold war. Now Hungary is a communist country. What's next? This is what "The Confrontation" is about. Now that the communist are in power what will happen? How will they advance their agenda? This is still new to a lot of people at this time. They didn't want a Soviet occupation. How was the party going to help the workers?

We follow a group of students from the Peoples College. Their aim is to make the university system more accessible to working class students and introduce them to Marxism. They find themselves in a "confrontation" on a monastery college campus, attempting to debate the students. But what soon happens is another 'confrontation" this time between the communist college students, who are presented as carefree and innocent, singing and dancing. You see, the students themselves are divided on how best to promote the communist agenda. Through peace, and intellectual debate or through violence and force.

The student advocating peace is Laci (Lajos Balazsovits), who was also in Jancso's "Private Vices, Public Virtues" (1976). After others feel his approach is not working and his methods are not persuading the minds of the monastery students, Jutka (Andrea Drahota) feels a more direct, violent approach would be more effective. Trying to compromise with non-believers will not work.

Of course this setting of college campus revolts also reflects "modern times" of the 1960s. The film was made in 1968, a time when college protest, especially in France and America, were common. Protest against the political system, the Vietnam war..ect. So again, Jancso is using historical times to comment on current conditions. It is easy to protest but difficult to lead. Once you win your battle, actions will be needed to implement your agenda. Someone could give a great speech but won't know how to get things done.

There is also the question of, would the powers that be, the establishment, ever give up their power? Who is really in control? Can protesting make a difference? Once they are put into power will another group not protest them as the establishment? Will they not fight to hold on to their power? This is an old Hungarian sentiment. The film-maker Istvan Szabo used to make films which argued, with great power comes great corruption. Power and influence changes people. Initially they may fight for change, to improve conditions, but once they are in power they too become corrupt. They become drunk with it.

Jancso and "The Confrontation" don't really have answers to these questions, like the students, the film is merely asking questions, trying to stir a debate. It wants to engage in an intellectual conversation. The question is, is there an audience for a movie like this today? These type of movies were common at one time, even in American cinema. Films which had ideas. Wanted to be about something. Had a viewpoint. Today we don't see much of that. Everything is too calculated. Takes the middle path. It is all about money. Making films which appeal to the most common denominator.

"The Confrontation" is filmed in a similar visual style to Jancso's "Meg Ker A Nep" (1972) and "Electra, My Love" (Szerelmem, Electra, 1974). It has a naturalistic quality to it. Many of the actors aren't professional, though Andras Balint does appear in the movie as a monastery student, who doesn't approve of communism. Balint was in the early Istvan Szabo masterpieces such as "Father" (Apa, 1967) and "Love Film" (Szerelmesfilm, 1971). The movie seems to use natural lighting, and is comparable to the neo-realistic movement in Italian cinema during the 1940s.

Although I would say the movie doesn't seem to capture the feeling of 1940s Hungary, rather it does feel like a piece of 1960s cinema. You can almost picture the leftist students singing songs about free love and wearing peace signs and beads.

I have now watched "The Confrontation" twice. It grew on me after a second viewing. If you are in the right mood it can be a an engaging film. But you have to be able to meet it at some level. You have to be in the mood to want to watch a movie about ideas and revolution. If you are, "The Confrontation" is a rewarding experience. It captures what made Miklos Jancso so important to Hungarian cinema and what made him a presence on the world stage. He truly was one of the greats. He will be missed.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Film Review: Brief Encounter

"Brief Encounter"  **** (out of ****)

Brief encounters. Special moments. Sometimes, what seem to be chance encounters, can end up being defining moments in our lives. Moments which will have a lasting effect on us. This is what David Lean's "Brief Encounter" (1945) is about.

Often cited as "the British Casablanca", "Brief Encounter" tells a story of a love which would not be. A woman, Laura (Celia Johnson) meets a man, Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), accidentally at a train station. She had something caught in her eye and he took it out. From this innocent encounter springs a romance. The problem is they are both married with children.

"Brief Encounter" was film-maker David Lean and "wonder boy" Noel Coward's fourth and final collaboration. The two men worked on "In Which We Serve" (1942), Lean's directorial debut, "This Happy Breed" (1944) and "Blithe Spirit" (1945). "Brief Encounter" is generally considered their best work together and is routinely considered one of the great movie romances.

The film should strike a nerve with viewers. It takes a basic cinematic premise, love can find us anywhere, and turns it on its head. It may not give you the ending you are hoping for. But it is a general idea audiences would love to believe. Isn't it secretly something we all hope for? At least those that are single. Love can find us anywhere. Maybe we will meet a special person on our bus ride to work. Bump into someone at the grocery store. Or at a train station.

Trains are a very important element in "Brief Encounter". All those people coming and going. Getting on and off trains. Each has a story. Any one of them could change our lives. Who knows what type of drama is being played out in the shadows. Lovers breaking up, going their separate ways. Secret affairs beginning or ending. There is constant movement in train stations.

These are some of the things you should be thinking about when watching this movie. Love can find us anywhere and each person has a story. A personal drama.

As one might expect this love affair between Laura and Alec is rather reserve. You know the way the British are. They must worry about respectability. Being prim and proper. Not allowing their emotions to get the best of them. But, when love is the subject, that is hard to do. You can only control your emotions to a certain degree. No one can completely suppress their feelings.

In the first scene of this movie we see two people sitting in a cafe in a train station. They are two of many people. Suddenly a friend notices one of the two. The friend sits down at their table and start to endlessly gab anyway. The two people are Laura and Alec. The friend is one of Laura's. A train whistle blows. It is Alec's train. He must leave. Laura, not wanting to leave her friend behind, doesn't see him off. He hesitantly walks away. She eyes catch his for a moment. He leaves while the friend continues talking. Next Laura's train arrives. She and her friend board it.

It is on Laura's train ride home, in a narration, we come to learn what we have just seen. This was to be Laura and Alec's last encounter. They were in love. He is leaving the country with his family. Never again we they see each other. And, in their final moments together, this friend showed up, depriving them of their final goodbye. Their last embrace.

The rest of the film, told in flashback, shows us what has lead to this final meeting.

I call "Brief Encounter" a romance and compare it to "Casablanca" (1943). Some may counter that claim. But "Brief Encounter" is romantic. It shows a doomed love, but, are those the stories we have been brought up to believe our romantic? Wuthering Heights? Romeo & Juliet? As for the "Casablanca" connection, people never seen to comment on the cynical nature of that movie. Rick's actions at the end aren't done out his deep love for Ilsa. Their love is gone. Rick knows this. He isn't making a great sacrifice, as so many often believe. He realizes Ilsa no longer loves him. She only loves Victor Laszlo. "Brief Encounter" is similar in not giving us the Hollywood ending. There is a melancholy throughout the picture, thanks largely to the musical soundtrack, consisting of a beautiful rendition of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. Which to me starts off so sad and tender.

The two performances by Johnson and Howard are deeply effective. Nearly everything Celia Johnson does hits home and makes her a believable character. Her facial expressions convey the hurt she is feeling. Love is gone. There is a tragic feeling in the air when that happens. Your world has collapsed. You manage to tune out the rest of the world. Only that person you lost occupies your mind. It is the only thing you are able to think of. It is all your brain has room for. Johnson's performance captures this.

In that final scene between the both of them we can sense Howard's disappointment. Life and now this friend have robbed them of happiness. But Howard plays it off. Again, showcasing the proper British attitude. Must not let your guard down.

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards among them best actress (Johnson) and best director (Lean). Johnson lost to Olivia de Havalland that year, who was in "To Each His Own" (1946). Lean lost to William Wyler, who directed "The Best Years Of Our Lives" (1946), which also won best picture that year.

"Brief Encounter" is a beautiful film. Well acted and directed the film can break your heart. Anyone that has loved should relate to the movie. And what about that final line in the film? I'll leave it up to you to interpret. What a line. What a sentiment. What a movie.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Budapest Times: Miklos Jancso Article

I have attached a link to an article I wrote which was published today in the Budapest Times paper.

http://budapesttimes.hu/2014/02/14/oeuvre-explored-oppression/

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Film Review: I Hate Valentine's Day

"I Hate Valentine's Day"
* 1\2 (out of ****)

With Valentine's Day upon us, I thought it would be a cute idea I review this Nia Vardalos comedy "I Hate Valentine's Day" (2009). I was wrong. You may hate Valentine's Day but I hate this movie more.

"I Hate Valentine's Day" was written and directed by Vardalos. It was her director debut. The movie is to put nicely, a perhaps well intended, disaster. It is a romantic comedy but does just about nothing right. How on earth this movie was written by the same women who wrote "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (2002) is beyond me. That movie did a few things right. This one however, is just completely tone deaf.

Recently I wrote a review for another Vardalos comedy "My Life in Ruins" (2009), which I also didn't like. I explained in that review Vardalos just seems to be trying to get by on her reputation for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and since that time has not done anything else which managed to connect with audiences. Everything she does just seems to try to recapture that movie's appeal.

Case in point. For Ms. Vardalos's directorial debut she has decided on casting John Corbett in the male lead. Mr. Corbett also co-starred with Vardalos in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". This casting decision naturally makes audiences think of that movie and allowed for advertisers to promote "starring the same people from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". People will recall that movie, think to themselves, oh I liked that movie and then decide to see this movie. Strangely enough the ploy didn't work. "I Hate Valentine's Day" was a box-office bomb. Another failure for Ms. Vardalos.

In the movie Vardalos stars as Genevieve, a woman who seems carefree and cheerful. She runs her own business, a flower shop. As you can imagine around Valentine's Day they get a lot of business. Despite the movie's title, Genevieve actually likes Valentine's Day. She loves romance. What she doesn't like is commitment. She doesn't believe in relationships. People, she argues, are not meant to be in exclusive relationships. They always end badly. So, as a result, she has created a five day rule. She will only date a man five times and then break up with him. This will spare her the hurt which can sometimes lead to relationships.

In its own way the movie is hitting on a current sentiment, which even I have noticed among women. Women don't want relationships. A particular generation (unfortunately mine) struggle with finding the right career path, trying to succeed in the chosen field, they are unsure of who they are, what they want. The have memories of an ex, which they can't let go of. They simply aren't looking for a relationship. Statics have shown marriage is on the decline. For the first time singles are the majority. Women are having fewer children, waiting longer to have their first child. This is the "modern, independent" woman. They don't need a man or a relationship or marriage.

Was this Nia Vardalos's intention? Was she out to make a comment on modern day dating? No, not really. At the end of the day, the movie wants to celebrate love and relationships. Again, despite its title.

Genevieve meets Greg (Corbett) who has bought a building near her flower shop and plans to open a Tapas restaurant. She finds him attractive. He finds her attractive. She explains her dating rules and since he has just been dumped by a cheating girlfriend, he agrees. Can these two people go through with this concept and not fall for each other?

Despite being predictable what makes me dislike "I Hate Valentine's Day" so much is how badly written it is. The characters aren't real people. They don't really have a personality. Nothing insightful to say. They are plot devices. There doesn't seem to be chemistry between the leads. The dialogue is flat. There isn't anything funny or romantic about the screenplay. It is just a disappointment in every way.

The supporting cast; Rachel Dratch, Mike Starr, Zoe Kazen, Stephen Guarino, Amir Arison, aren't given anything to work with. They are all wasted. There isn't really anything interesting about them. No sense of who they are as people. After you watch this movie, explain to me who Rachel Dratch is? What is her character's story? What did the creation of this character contribute to the over all story?

If you want to watch a sweet, funny, romantic comedy about two people who take a while to realize they are right for each other watch "When Harry Met Sally" (1989).

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Film Review: Bright Eyes



"Bright Eyes"  *** (out of ****)

In honor of "the little princess", Shirley Temple, who died Monday night at the age of 85, I have decided to review "Bright Eyes" (1934) as a tribute.

"Bright Eyes" is routinely acknowledge as the first film to take full advantage of Shirley Temple's talent. The movie was built around her.

When I heard of Temple's death, this was the movie which instantly came to mind. It is the movie I most associate with her because it features the song "On the Good Ship Lollipop" which Temple sings and became something of her theme song. My father is a musician and used to play this song for my sister and I when we were younger, around Shirley Temple's age.

"Bright Eyes" is a sentimental weeper. The critic in me says the movie really tries to exploit our feelings and lay on the pathos, going to great lengths to make us care about Shirley Temple and find her cute. However my other half says, so what? The movie does pull at our heartstrings and does present Temple in the most sympathetic light imaginable. But it's not that difficult to do when you've got a face like Shirley Temple. She was about the most adorable thing I have ever seen, with the exception of my niece, of course!

In the movie Temple plays a five year old girl named Shirley who is an orphan. Just like everyone else in the Depression Era audience, little Shirley has hit hard times. Her godfather is Loop (James Dunn). An aviator who was best friends with her father. Loop loves Shirley as if she was his own daughter.

Shirley's mother, Mary (Lois Wilson) was working as a maid for the wealthy Smythe family (Dorothy Christy and Theodore von Eltz). They do not like Shirley. But, Uncle Ned (Charles Sellon) does. And it is because of his money the Smythe's are wealthy. And because they know that, they have allowed Uncle Ned to live with them, in the hopes when he dies he will leave them all his money. So the couple must put up with Shirley as a result.

As I said the movie goes to great lengths to present Shirley in the best light possible and gain the audience's sympathy. One of the most instant ways is be class distinction. The Smythe's are wealthy while Mary and Shirley aren't. But Shirley doesn't care. She is happy and doesn't think of herself as poor. The movie takes places around Christmas time. The Smythe's have their own daughter, who is presented as a spoiled brat. On Christmas Day, the daughter is opening present after present but remains disappointed. This is in contrast to Shirley, who is happy to get a doll. She bellows, in the sweetest, most innocent voice you ever heard, "Oh my goodness" at the sight of it. And has a smile on her face that could melt a stone.

The movie also tries to show Shirley in a cute light by presenting her as an innocent child. We see her eating chocolate cake mix with a giant spoon as the chocolate is all over her face and again she has that million dollar smile on her face. Other scenes show her playing with a dog, pretending to be an aviator like her father and playing mommy to her doll.

In the same vein that Laurel & Hardy entertained depression era audiences, by making them laugh and presenting themselves as being worst off, Shirley Temple entertained audiences and brought them comfortable due to her optimism. Here was a little girl going through tough times, smiling and laughing all the way through it. It warms your heart to see her.

The picture was directed by David Butler. He directed some other Shirley Temple movies; "The Little Colonel" (1935) and "The Littlest Rebel" (1935) but I know him best as a comedy director, directing several Bob Hope comedies such as " Road to Morocco" (1942) and "The Princess and the Pirate" (1944).

Shirley Temple will surely be missed even though her acting days were long behind her. She brought so much joy to people. And her appeal expanding generations. My grandparents watched her movies as did I when I was younger. There was a 50 year difference between us, but, it didn't matter.

Temple wasn't just a popular child star of the 1930s. To think that way would just trivialize what she really was. She was a major Hollywood star. Stories about her popularity are legendary. It was said at the time "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) was going into production, Temple was naturally thought of for the role of Dorothy. However, MGM was going to release that picture and Temple worked at 20th Century Fox. In order to get Temple, Fox wold have to loan her out (as was done in those days. Actors worked for studios) to MGM. Fox refused. To sweeten the deal MGM would offer to "trade" Clark Gable for Temple. Fox refused. They felt Shirley Temple was worth more than Clark Gable! And in a way she was. She was the box-office champion from 1935-1938. Appearing in movies such as "Curly Top" (1935), "Heidi" (1937) and "Poor Little Rich Girl" (1936) with Alice Faye.

As Temple got older though, some say her appeal went away. Audiences wouldn't accept her as an adult. I reviewed some of her movies when she was older; "Since You Went Away" (1944) and "That Hagen Girl" (1947) among them. She was also in "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" (1947) with Cary Grant and "I'll Be Seeing You" (1944) with Ginger Rogers.

"Bright Eyes" is a sweet family picture which really showcases Shirley Temple's talents. It should be enjoyed by many for its good natured, innocent tone.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Film Review: The Story of Marie & Julien



"The Story of Marie & Julien" *** (out of ****)

Jacques Rivette's "The Story of Marie & Julien" (2003) is a story about love. Love as an abstract term and love between these two characters; Marie (Emmanuelle Beart) and Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz).

Every character in "The Story of Marie & Julien" is affected by love and emotions. All four principle characters are running their lives based on love. Love keeps them going. Gives them the ability to survive.

What is interesting however is director Rivette allows these emotions to gradually build. The viewer doesn't feel overwhelmed by it. A message is not being shoved down our throats. The movie takes its time telling this story. The film is two and a half hours long. It is by the end of the picture, we realize the movie impact. Or at least that was my case. I didn't realize how much I had liked this movie until I thought about it afterwards.

Rivette and the movie are a bit of a tease. At first the story seems to be about blackmail. Julien is demanding money from a woman only known as "Madame X" (Anne Brochet). She owns a silk business and it seems they are using fake material. Julien has papers to prove this point and will expose her.

Oddly enough, the longer the movie runs, we find out this isn't really what the movie is about. This isn't a thriller. No one's life seems to be in danger. Julien never fears Madame X will have him killed in order to get him out of the way. There are no mysterious phone calls at night, no death threat letters, no public scandal.

The movie intertwines this story with one about Julien meeting Marie. It seems they knew each other at one time. I met about a year ago, maybe more, one of them constantly injects. Since that time Julien has felt a loss in his life. He has thought about Marie. He needs her. She tells him the same.

Marie was dating a man, Simon, who died in a suicide car crash six months ago. Julien is a lonely man, who lives with his cat. He repairs broken clocks.

These are two lonely people who have managed to found one another again, at a time in their life when they most desperately need someone.

The movie starts to take a David Lynch turn, and becomes something of a brain teaser, involving a character, Adrienne (Bettina Kee) who may or may not be dead. She is Madame X's younger sister. And we start to question, what is going on here. Is any character really who we think they are?

But again, this material is not played as a super natural thriller. Ghosts are killing the living. No one is being haunted. Although you could argue some characters are suffering for sins from the past.

Watching this movie, I embarrassingly thought of someone I knew every time I saw Emmanuelle Beart on-screen. It is not that Beart resembles the woman in question, though, their figure is similar. And as this happened, I began to become more and more involved in the picture because I could understand Julien's feelings and what the movie, in my opinion, is about. How difficult it is to let go of someone you love. When you love someone and lose that person (it doesn't have to be because of death, a break-up will do) you carry that forever. I don't care how many years past. How many people you have dated since. Our memories don't fade away. We never completely forget the past. Not when the memories are meaningful.

Emmanuelle Beart normally plays very sensual characters. Watch her in Claude Chabrol's "L'Enfer" (1994) where she drives her husband mad, as he is convinced she is cheating on him. Watch her in "Nathalie" (2003) as a topless dancer, Andre Techine's masterpiece "Strayed" (2004) or "8 Women" (2002). And finally watch her beauty shine in "Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud" (1995). She is a wonderful actress. But here we see something different from Beart. Yes, she is beautiful, but we see a troubled soul here. There is more despair. More vulnerability here than I normally see from here. I was a pleasure to see a different side of her acting skills.

Jerzy Radziwilowicz is best known for his work with the greatest Polish film maker Andrzej Wajda and the films "Man of Marble" (1977) and its sequel "Man of Iron" (1981). I am not as familiar with Radziwilowicz's acting as I should be however we see similar qualities in his performances as we do Beart. Their loneliness is unmistakable. They both really convey that to the audiences in the most realistic terms. We accept them as these characters.

The director, Jacques Rivette was part of the French New Wave in the 1960s in America, along with Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Eric Rohmer. Unfortunately Rivette never really caught on with American audiences in the same way. Perhaps best known for "Celine and Julie Go Boating" (1974), another surreal fable, he also made love stories like "Around A Small Mountain" (2009) and "The Duchess of Langeais" (2008). My favorite of his movies is "La Belle Noiseuse" (1991) a beautiful meditation on the creative process.

Many people question the ending of this movie. What is it all about? How does it fit in with the rest of the movie? The ending to me suggest the power of love. How's that for a Valentine's Day message?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Xpatloop.com Film Review

I have attached a link to my film review for Spike Jonze's "Her" (2013) which was published on the Hungarian site xpatloop.com.

http://www.xpatloop.com/news/75844

Film Review: Reds

"Reds"  *** (out of ****)

Warren Beatty's labor of love "Reds" (1981) is a very ambitious, grand piece of cinema. It wants to be a historical, epic love story and tell us about an important moment in history.

Unfortunately, it doesn't quite succeed because it makes one cardinal mistake. It wants to be a love story first, historical film second.

That move may have been deliberately done on the part of Beatty and co-writer Trevor Griffiths but it was the wrong move. The film is about the life of journalist John Reed, best known in this country for the book "Ten Days that Shook the World" based on the Russian Revolution and his relationship to Louise Bryant.

I would imagine in order to sell the movie to a studio and get financial  backing, Beatty had to sell it as "Doctor Zhivago" (1965) of the 1980s. And in doing so Beatty makes the center of attention the love story. Though it is what is in the background, the story of social upheaval, both in America and Russia, and the beginning of America's entry in WW1, which is truly interesting.

This is an old plot device that was used before "Reds" and has continued to be used years later. It is history told through the eyes of lovers. See "Children of Glory" (2006) as a modern day example or "December Heat" (2008). "Children" is a Hungarian movie dealing with the 1956 Hungarian Uprising and "December Heat" is an Estonian movie dealing with their own conflict with communist. The idea is history interferes with the lovers. There are wars, revolutions, political and social injustice in the background making it difficult for the lovers to be together. The world and all of its problems are keeping the couple apart. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. It should have worked better in "Reds".

Beatty doesn't make us care enough about the politics of the story. The viewer doesn't truly get a feeling of the time period. Why is this story important? Why did Warren Beatty feel the need to tell it? This was an important moment in history. This is an interesting story but Beatty doesn't give it the attention and detail it deserves.

In "Reds" Beatty plays John Reed. A left-wing journalist who is sometimes of a socialist-activist. He argues for a world-wide union of workers. With the possibility of war on the horizon he speaks of peace. People of the world should band together and not fight. The war is not about "peace" and "democracy" it is about profits. About making sure the ruling classes keep their money.

Beatty plays Reed as an innocent, gullible man with good intentions who finds himself in dangerous situations.

Diane Keaton plays Louise Bryant, a feminist who also writes but hasn't really found her voice. She is also a left-wing activist, but, doesn't really know what she is fighting for. She takes on everything. Through her relationship with John Reed together they both travel to Russia to see first hand the beginnings of a revolution.

Technically the movie is impressive. The cinematography by Vittorio Storaro) is beautiful, capturing the landscape. I like the costume and production designs, the music is fitting and helps re-enforce the emotions of particular scenes but I keep coming back to the story. There isn't enough there.

There is also a terrific cast; Jack Nicholson, playing Eugene O' Neil, Paul Sorvino has a socialist politician, Louis Fraina, Maureen Stapleton as Emma Goldman, Gene Hackman as Pete Van Wherry and Edward Herrmann as Max Eastman.

The movie was nominated for a total of 12 Academy Awards including best picture, best actor (Beatty), best actress (Keaton) and best supporting actor (Nicholson). It went on to win three awards; best director (Beatty), best supporting actress (Stapleton) and best cinematography (Storaro).

"Reds" is a well intended, finely acted, at times emotional story that just doesn't fully explain the implications of its story and help the viewer fully understand the time period.




Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Film Review: My Life in Ruins

"My Life in Ruins"
 ** 1\2 (out of ****)

"My Life in Ruins" (2009) is another attempt by actress/writer Nia Vardalos to cash in and duplicate the success of her breakout movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (2002) which she starred in and wrote. Don't believe me? Look at the advertising for this movie and every movie she has been in since. In big bold letters it tells us Vardalos is from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", hoping because audiences enjoyed that movie they will just automatically assume any movie with her in it will be funny. That movie came out 12 years ago and nothing Nia Vardalos has done since has compared. You can only get by on the reputation of one movie for so long.

But perhaps that sounds too harsh. Although I am merely stating the obvious. Still, "My Life in Ruins" is not a disaster and maybe doesn't deserve such mean spirited criticism. Maybe. And you can't blame producers and studios for wanting their movie to turn in a profit. They will try whatever advertising they can to bring people to their movie.

Even though "My Life in Ruins" was not written by Vardalos, credit is given to Mike Reiss, who wrote "The Simpson's Move" (2007) and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" (2009), it seems to have been a tailor made vehicle of Vardalos. Place her in a Greek setting and make a romantic comedy. What could go wrong? I have to believe Nia Vardalos had some input with this script. But just like everything else Vardalos has been in since "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", she just doesn't seem to get what made that movie work, what made it connect with audiences. It was that people could relate. They saw themselves in it. It may have been a Greek family presented but audiences, of all different ethnic backgrounds, saw their families. Vardalos just seems to think if she copies particular aspects of that movie lightning will strike twice. So she appears in a comedy set in Greece. Then she writes another romantic comedy that will co-star John Corbett, who was also in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" in "I Hate Valentine's Day" (2009). Of course then audiences will think, hey, those two are in another movie, wow, it must be good because "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was good.

What made "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" work was Vardalos wrote about something she knew about - her family and Greek culture. It seemed to be based on her own experiences. You often hear people say, write about what you know. Everyone has one good story in them - their story. And so it was with Vardalos and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" but "My Life in Ruins" isn't in the same league.

The problem is the characters are not believable, the situations are predictable and worst of all, I didn't find the movie to be funny. It is light, meaningless entertainment that is suppose to make us feel good about life, put us a mood for romance. Perhaps hope a good looking stranger will talk to us at the grocery store or on a bus on the way to work.

There is nothing really presented here. The director, Donald Petrie, the screenwriter and Vardalos, just want to make a formula, Hollywood picture that will make people laugh and make money. Nothing wrong with that mind you, sometimes a routine Hollywood lightweight picture is just what we need. But, there are still standards of good and bad. "My Life in Ruins" almost works and I would be more forgiving if the movie was just a tad bit more funny. If there were some big comedy sequences or if I found the love story more believable, if I could see myself in the same situation.

Petrie has been a director of popular mainstream titles such as "Richie Rich" (1994) with Macaulay Culkin, "Miss Congeniality" (2000), "Grumpy Old Men" (1993) and "How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days" (2003), nothing Oscar worthy, just Hollywood fluff. And a lot of those movies found a receptive audience. Petrie doesn't play around with any big ideas, doesn't go in for anything of artistic value, he simply creates a middle of the road movie.

Nia Vardalos plays Georgia. She works as a tour guide in Greece. Mind you, this is not the life she had originally planned when she moved to Greece. She wanted to teach, she studied history, which is why she loves Greece, but, life didn't work out as she expected. So, until the next best thing comes along, this is her life and she hates it.

Georgia competes with co-worker Nico (Alistair McGowan), a kiss up, who gets all the better tourist, while Georgia is stuck with the "losers", the people who constantly complain, have no interest in the culture and just want to go to the beach and check out attractive people.

On this particular tour there is Irv (Richard Dreyfuss) an American traveling on his own, who is a bit of a smartass. He is one of those guys who is always telling jokes which no one else thinks are funny. Then there is the obnoxious American tourist couple (SNL's Rachel Dratch and Harland Williams), who get made when everyone doesn't speak "American", and praise everything back home. There is the bickering couple (Caroline Goodall and Ian Ogilvy) rounding everything out. See what I just did there? All of the characters are cliches. Cultural stereotypes. Unoriginal.

Also on the bus is Poupi (Alexis Georgoulis) the bus driver on the tour. He has a long beard and long hair and there is some debate as to whether or not he speaks English, or if he is human. But beneath that beard, under the long hair, is a gentle man with a good soul. A man who just might be able to get Georgia out of the funk she is in. Maybe Poupi will make her learn to enjoy life again.

And like a puzzle, everything falls into its proper place but I won't reveal anything, just in case you are unable to figure the movie out for yourself.

Vardalos can be sweet and likable. She downplays her good looks, trying to go for an "every woman" appeal, and engages in a lot of self-deprecating humor. Sometimes it works. Here it works overall. But like any actor, you need a good script to carry you through. "My Life in Ruins" is not that script. It showcases some of Vardalos natural screen presence but doesn't do anything with it. It doesn't elevator her to the next step. It doesn't show her potential. Its stuck in first gear.

Richard Dreyfuss in some ways has the best part. He takes a thankless role, which could have been played by anyone, they were lucky to get him, and makes it memorable. That's what I am talking about. Dreyfuss elevates the material. He makes the part better than what was written. He gives his character some dimension. He tries to make this character believable. Vardalos doesn't do that.

"My Life in Ruins" is harmless and predictable. You won't remember much about this movie afterwards and the performances are routine. This is not a disaster. I wouldn't say anything as strong as "worst movie I've ever seen" but still it is not worth your time. If you want to see a light romantic comedy to put you in the mood this Valentine's Day, all I can say is, like friends will tell you after a bad date, you have better options.

[Interesting note: I was in Europe when this movie originally was released. In the UK it went by the title "Driving Aphrodite". The American title, is actually one of the few clever things about the movie. A play on words.]

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

In Memory: Miklos Jancso

Here is a link to an article I wrote for the Toledo Free Press on the recent passing of Miklos Jancso, one of the great filmmakers in Hungarian cinema.

http://www.toledofreepress.com/2014/02/04/filmmaker-miklos-jancso-1921-2014-helped-share-hungarian-culture/

I have also reviewed some of Mr. Jancso's films in the past. Here are links:

Masterpiece Film Series: Szegenylegenyek

Film Review: Private Vices Public Virtues

Film Review: Meg ker nep

Monday, February 3, 2014

Film Review: The Spectacular Now

"The Spectacular Now"  *** (out of ****)

"The Spectacular Now" (2013) takes place at that special moment in our life. That moment when we are told we are too young, children, yet are expected to know exactly what we are suppose to do with the rest of our lives. A young man is about to graduate high school, but, he doesn't have a clue where life will lead him. He doesn't have a plan. He doesn't want to become an "adult" because all of the adults he sees around him, aren't happy. Better to lead the carefree life of a child then grow up, become an adult and accept responsibility.

But that's not how life works. Eventually we all have to grow up. We have to accept responsibility. We have to decide on a college and a major. We are expected to know exactly what we want to do for the rest of our lives. We feel the whole world is open to us. The possibilities are endless. We are trailblazers. We will set the world on fire. I won't mention what happens next. I may have some young readers and don't want to crush their spirits.

It is a confusing time to be in and our hero, Sutter (Miles Teller) is at a crossroad. All of his friends are thinking ahead, applying to colleges, settling into relationships, thinking about the future. But Sutter believes he has all he could want out of life. He has a girlfriend, a car, a job as a salesmen in a men's clothing store and he is popular at school. Could life get any better? Sutter's philosophy is live in the moment. That "spectacular now", the present.

Though life has other plans for him. His girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson) breaks up with him when she believes, mistakenly, that he cheated on her. Soon he meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a fellow student, who Sutter never noticed before. She isn't quite as popular as he is and doesn't hang out with the "cool kids". Sutter thinks he could "help her". Make her loosen up. You see, Aimee takes responsibility for her life. She is applying to colleges, helps her mom with her paper route (yes you read that correctly) and is a good student.

Sutter though seems to be using Aimee has a rebound. He says he has no interest in her. He wants to get back with Cassidy, who is now dating Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi). Better letting go of an ex is hard to do. Letting her go means moving on with your life. Things aren't as they used to be. You must make a new chapter in your life. Preciously what Sutter wants to avoid.

"The Spectacular Now" goes into some deeper areas involving family strife and becomes a sweet love story. Aimee has never had a boyfriend before. She has never slept with anyone. All of this is new to her. She develops strong feelings for Sutter and slowly Sutter realizes he has found a place in his heart for her.

Initially I wasn't really in the mood to see this movie when I did. I have recently stopped dating someone and the idea of seeing a movie celebrating love, showing two people coming together, wasn't exactly what I needed to see at that moment. Yet, I found myself involved in the story. It works.

The best thing about the movie is the two leads. I have never seen Miles Teller before, and while I felt he was miscasted. He is suppose to play a popular, good looking guy, who can get the pretty girl, he has a natural presence on-screen. Shailene Woodley, who really impressed me in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" (2011), once again shines. The both of them make us believe they are these characters. There is plenty of chemistry between them.

"The Spectacular Now" isn't quite as romantic as "A Walk to Remember" (2002) with Mandy Moore, as far as teen love stories go. And it didn't really make me relive my first love experience and my early dating years the way "Summer of '42" (1971) did. But, "The Spectacular Now" is a well-told story with two very good performances. It is sweet and has a definite soft-spot.

It is not a great romance but it tackles some serious issues. More than the love story it is a story about growing up. Those are the moments which I found most interesting. It gets a lot of those moments right. That is what makes "The Spectacular Now" worth seeing.