Home Again (2017)

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‘This is one of those brightly lit Hollywood romcoms with commercial-style acting and precious little insight into human behavior. It’s built on thin contrivances and thinner characters.’ Michael Ordona csm

My loyalty to Reese Witherspoon and Nancy Meyers, who produced The Holiday, The Intern and It’s Complicated (all films I loved), pulled me on board for the most recent addition to the romantic comedy genre. Here, amateur writer and director daughter of Nancy Meyers, Hallie Meyers-Shyer, juggles appealing younger men, outrageously expensive interiors and coddled well-off people in the hope of creating a warm romance, but didn’t quite hit the mark. My biggest mistake was coming to Home Again after watching the triumphant Big Little Lies, so be aware that the two are practically polar opposite – except maybe Witherspoon dropping off her kids to school in an expensive SUV. Home Again is here to please, so it’s very pure and very simple.

Witherspoon is Alice, a newly separated 40 year old interior designer with two beautiful daughters, who has just moved back to her late director father’s LA home. Her sheepish, rumpled and still wildly-in-love husband Michael Sheen is back in New York, desperate to patch things up. On the eve of her 40th birthday celebrations, Alice meets three young wannabe filmmakers with a dream of succeeding in LA. Opening up her lavish garden house for their use during their time making it in LA reels in an odd but sweet makeshift family, the combined traits of everything her ex-husband should have been. The house guests become unpaid child-care providers, tech troubleshooters and man candy, and of course from here on out the rest of the movie is pretty predictable.

Meyers-Shyer had previously mentioned that Home Again was a reflection of the struggles of young divorced women combined with a gender twist on May-December romances, which is interesting enough. But Alice’s hurdles are not relatable to the majority of its viewers, considering they all blow over once she gains the courage to verbally confront them. So inevitably, you are pulled into an alternate reality where everything is just as beautiful on the inside as the outside, and the rich and famous inhabit every luxury on a silver platter. Following her award worthy work in Wild and Big Little Lies, this is an inevitable step backwards for Witherspoon, yet there is something different and oddly charming that appeals to this light hearted rom-com.

If you’re at the cinemas in Australia this weekend, you practically have to pick from The Snowman, Geostorm, Kingsman, Home Again, Blade Runner 2049 or Captain Underpants – i would pick the latter, or if that isn’t your cup of tea, then Blade Runner. But if you’re after a light hearted, slightly disappointing, sometimes funny but overall satisfying romantic comedy you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for in Home Again.

★★☆☆☆

IMDb – 5.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 30%

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The Mountain Between Us (2017)

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Every once in a while you stumble upon something that makes you fall in love all over again, with that irresistible magic that first sparked your passion. Every movie lover can trace their journey back a few years, or possibly decades, to the moment that they first realised movie magic existed. I honestly never thought that Idris Elba and Kate Winslet would take me there, back to that dim little movie theatre on the corner of James and Robertson Street. Looking back now, I realise this is probably a movie I enjoyed a lot more than I “should have” (because in reality The Mountain Between Us has almost altogether flopped,) but I at least hope you can agree that there is nothing not to love about Elba and Winslet on a snowy mountain, battling for survival in what is almost an adventurous romance.

Kate Winslet is the free-spirited Alex, a photojournalist eagerly awaiting her wedding the following morning, while Idris Elba is the straight-laced Ben, a brain surgeon who must desperately operate on a dying 10 year old boy interstate. An impending storm has stranded them both at Salt Lake City Airport, with little choice but to wait out until the morning. With everything at stake, the pair persuade a local charter pilot to fly them across deadly mountain ranges, with little concern for local aviation or the pilot’s failing personal health. And so it goes, a sudden fatal stroke cascades the plane into the snowy peaks of Utah and we are left to pick up the pieces of their extraordinary battle for survival. I don’t have to fill in the gaps here, as I’m sure your mind is already drifting to the many injuries, hypothermia … or maybe even mountain cougars, you’ll see it all.

Kate Winslet once survived a sinking ship in Titanic, and Idris Elba once thrived on the streets of Baltimore in The Wire. There is no reason why these dynamic actors shouldn’t carry enough dramatic weight between them to elevate a trek through the desolate snow-blanketed mountain ranges. But instead, they find themselves floating somewhere between drama and soap opera. But here I’ll attribute Elba’s surprising awkwardness to his first-ever crack at romantic lead, (p.s. just as you might have hoped he is nothing short of dreamy.) Based on the novel by Charles Martin, and propelled by the screenplay collaboration of Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe, who share a wide scope of successful romance films between them, The Mountain Between Us has all of the mesmerising elements to succeed. Add Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, the visionary behind Paradise Now and Omar (a love story, mind you) and there’s no room for fault. But here the once epic vision fails and instead the beautiful mountains begin to look more like molehills.

Right – but coming back to my dramatic spiel in the beginning. For a reason unbeknown to me, I was enveloped in the charasmatic charm, mystery, drama and unfolding romance, so much so I almost shed a happy tear. The film may have altogether tumbled and it might have been dramatically corny, but my romantic soft spot overcame. So if you’re weighing up whether to watch this one, you need to first consider the pros and cons for yourself in order to really derive a solution. If you read this review and at any moment in time you felt compelled to throw up, I am inclined to tell you that this is definitely not a movie I would recommend for you. It’s so bad that it’s really good!

Here’s what the professional critics had to say … ‘This romantic drama is most compelling as a mild story of survival adventure. Contemporary romances often stumble over the first hurdle: Their dramatic obstacle.’ – Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media or ‘A perfect title for a movie in which neither the subzero temperature nor the romantic heat penetrates more than skin deep.’ – Peter Debruge, Variety

IMDb – 6.2  Rotten Tomatoes – 43%

★★★☆☆

The Big Sick (2017)

The Big Sick first caught my eye in Empire magazine, when I realised that this inspiring true story turned rom-com featured Kumail Nanjiani as well, himself. This stark contrast from other retold true stories brings a powerful warmth, wit and depth to his character in a sincere parallel to the truth upon which the film unfolds – making The Big Sick one of the most amazing stories told this year.

Kumail Nanjiani is a young Pakistani stand up comedian from Chicago, who spends his days performing, meeting eligible Pakistani girls (not by choice) and showcasing his love for Pakistan through one-man-shows in his local theatre. During one particularly dry gig, Kumail meets his match in Emily, played by Zoe Kazan. However, Kumail’s traditional Muslim family are unaware of his romance, and continue to press for an arranged marriage with other local Pakistani girls. Mention of the next development in the film should not come as a shock, considering it’s The Big, Sick, after all and the publicity campaign is heartily in Emily’s unfolding medical crisis – but do not fear because it’s nothing like the weepie Me Before You or The Fault in Our Stars. In fact, this dramatic crisis brings a beautiful display of superior storytelling as we follow Kumail as bedside vigil alongside Emily during the entire process. Ultimately, what unfolds is a unique story of faith, commitment and passion wrapped in the fabric of a modern love.

One of the most wonderful things about The Big Sick is the husband and wife duo that brought their story to life, Kumail Nunjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Almost parallel to the real events that conspired in their own relationship, the storytelling gravitates to the passion and honesty of the living breathing masterpiece (that is their story) that brought this film to life. The sharp, intuitive and witty scripting delves into a lot more than you would naturally expect from a rom-com, diverting into almost another genre in itself. The modern love, age-old prejudices, religion and commitment knitted into real life romances come alive in this film, in a way that is both as profoundly deep as it is profoundly entertaining. I’ve watched a lot of comedies, but I haven’t laughed out loud like this in a long time.

The undeniable on-screen chemistry that grows between Kumail and Zoe is the cherry on the top of the cake, in a story that reaches out of a cross-cultured romance into the turmoil of our world to bring a shining beacon of hope. In this way, The Big Sick does more than make you simply think, it draws together people, our community, to become better people with more compassion for others. No wonder this is the film everyone is talking about. Don’t miss your chance to revel in its magic – you won’t be disappointed.

Rich in emotional honesty and equal parts moving, The Big Sick successfully infuses the traditional rom-com formula with a modern sensibility.”

★★★★★

IMDb – 8.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%

A United Kingdom (2016)

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The captivating true-life romance that drew an English office clerk and the future King of Botswana into a future of rippling prosperity and incredible global influence. In a world of common interracial relationships, British filmmaker Amma Asante illustrates the remarkable history of two individuals who forged a difficult path to acceptance, love and unshaken equality for all.

A United Kingdom evolves from the very moment a simple insurance clerk, played by Rosamund Pike, and a nice African chap, David Oyelowo (who also happens to be the heir of the throne to Bechuanaland) meet at a London Missionary Society Dance. Following a secret year-long courtship, the couple marry in 1948, triggering an immediate and highly severe diplomatic fallout between Bechuanaland, London and South Africa. What unfolds is a long and treacherous battle for equality, for peace and for justice in a place where white women are buffeted and prodded.

One day things have to change and it has to start somewhere.

The film’s appeal undoubtedly lies in watching Ruth and Seretse together, while every force around them conspires to tear them apart. Pike and Oyelowo’s chemistry is truly sincere, elegant and awe-inspiring, remaining composed and full of strength in pressure that would destroy anything but wholehearted love and commitment. Oyelowo also brings to his role a stillness and poise reflective of Martin Luther King, in which his reticence and influence blossoms. This deep romance and commitment, painted on a backdrop of horror and destruction, draws out the very best in humanity’s ability to conquer all.

I think that A United Kingdom’s greatest strength in fact lies in its ability to showcase that love can conquer all, even in times of incredible heartache. Without the persistence to create change in a seemingly imperfect world, nothing worthwhile would ever come about.

I want to make pieces of entertainment and art that mean something,” director Amma Asante recently told the BBC, “I want to make movies that leave some kind of mark on you.” But A United Kingdom does more than just simply leave a mark, with its nicely paced and intelligent depiction of a story almost too good to be true. A chapter of heartstring jerking history that deserves a close reading.

★★★★★

Imdb – 6.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 89%

La La Land (2016)

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The seasons of a charming love affair are illustrated wonderfully in this captivating scope of colour, sweetness, sadness and song. From the newest creation of Damien Chazelle, who stole hearts in last years Whiplash, comes an unapologetic romantic homage to the Hollywood glamour of the 1940’s and 1950’s, splashing its poster-paint energy and optimism on the big screen.

Emma Stone is Mia, a barista at the lot of Warner Brothers Studio with big dreams to join the acting world. But like most aspiring actresses, Mia has suffered through endless humiliating auditions with little hope of reaching her dreams. Ryan Gosling, as Sebastian, joins the scene as a mesmerising pianist and a passionate jazz purist, who bristles at the increasing bastardisation of what is considered to be in his mind the highest musical form. Mia and Sebastian’s first encounter is a prickly bump in during peak traffic, but soon enough the two meet again and the inevitable and unexpected happens – they fall in love.

Chazelle explores priceless musical sequences as a continuation of La La Land’s limitless possibilities. The seamless moments of singing and dancing are woven into the ordinary, creating an intimate sense of excitement and intrigue. The film holds exceptional use of cinematography, and an exquisite display of colour and light. The vibrancy of the costumes and lighting creates a masterpiece of vibrancy, a bright canvas for the romance of Mia and Sebastian to evolve. In saying that, while the musical scores of Justin Hurwitz soared in the opening scenes, toward the end La La Land lacked the heart and soul of a musical and focused instead on almost monotonous themes that rocked me to sleep. But undeniably, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling carry the film with charm and grace, piercing emotional moments with gut and expressive honesty – and enough romance to create brilliance.

La La Land is a sweet film for those of us who love love, or for those of us with dreams that need a little cheering up. La La Land is a celebration of Hollywood’s Golden Age, of jazz and of course of romance, with its heart bound in deep connections and relentless regret. Here’s to the fools who dream.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 8.9/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 93%

Me Before You (2016)

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Pairing a working-class British lass with an icy quadriplegic aristocrat whose heart she’s been hired to melt, Me Before You seems to boast a can’t-miss premise – class division and medical misfortune forming the peanut butter and jelly of this tear jerking romance. Considering the immense popularity of Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novel, from which she adapts the screenplay, and the amiable power of British realism, Me Before You is virtually a recipe for success.

Me Before You follows the story of Lou Clark, played by Emilia Clarke; guileless, naïve and accident prone – Lou radiates a delightful cheeriness through her quirky manner and wild fashion sense. Desperate to support her family, Lou presents herself at the door of a local castle hoping to become a potential carer for reclusive heir Will Trainor, played by Sam Clafin. Expected to discover an elderly invalid, Lou is astonished when she finds a handsome, debonair young man of previously high-flying banker rendered quadriplegic by a motorbike crash. A friendship begins to unravel, enhanced by Lou’s sunny nature and a collection of enthralling adventures in hopes of persuading Will to keep on living.

Emilia Clarke’s performance as Lou is winningly immersed in charming gawkiness and heartfelt sincerity, all while parading a deliriously cheesy grandma wardrobe heavy on eye-popping colours and prints. So much so, it might prompt reminiscence of when you first encountered the blinding incandescence of Julia Roberts’ wide-screen ready smile or the delicate allure of Kiera Knightley’s cameo-locket features. Emilia Clarke is undeniably loveable, especially when she is matched with toxic, resentful and bitter Sam Clafin. His performance fails to shy away from the hopeless agenda of his case, but keeps us mercilessly invested in the effortless appeal of the pairs’ punching emotions, set against a backdrop of tear jerking Ed Sheeran tunes.

However, despite its appeal as a quirky loveable romance, Me Before You caresses deep complicated issues with little regard for the politics of euthanasia. The films admirable presentation of a disabled man as a swoon-worthy romantic lead collides with the implicit suggestion that perhaps such a hopeless life isn’t worth living, so the undercurrents of wish-fulfilment leave a sour taste. The skittish delicacy with which Me Before You explores quadriplegia draws few parallels with counterpart love story The Fault in Our Stars 2014, a far bolder and more honest portrayal of life with serious medical difficulties.

First-time filmmaker Thea Sharrock certainly maintains an air of sweetness throughout the film, immersing us in her loveable main characters, but Me Before You lacks a real romantic charge. Given the catchphrase “Live Boldly!”, it’s a shame that the film didn’t take a bolder and more honest route in this adaptation, considering the extent of the underlying ideas of disability. The seriousness of euthanasia was sadly underplayed, but this flick is still entertaining, engaging and heart-warming, overall a small win for romance.

★★★☆☆

The Immigrant (2013)

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The Immigrant isn’t just set in the past, but feels like it’s been rediscovered from another time. The latest film from award-winning director James Gray ignites outdated modes of film making and highlights the perfect details behind a luckless Polish woman’s difficulty in attaining the American dream. The intelligence, maturity and honesty of this work is outstanding and a little bewildering to say the least.

Upon arrival at Ellis Island, Ewa is immediately separated from her beloved sister Magda, ignored by her uncle and threatened with deportation back to Poland. All seems hopeless for Ewa until Bruno comes along with the promise of boarding and work at his theatre, which quickly proves as nothing more than a high-class brothel. However kindness arrives in the form of a charming travelling magician who falls for Ewa, meanwhile causing Bruno to become immensely jealous.

The Immigrant has a melodramatic edge to it, but there remains something too fragile and tense about the actress in the role. The film delivers a performance that’s quite integral and charming, but also surprisingly forceful. You can never predict the behaviour and emotions of characters intertwined in the thick plot. The immigrant is almost a fatuous love story in a world haunted by fear. Bruno and Orlando are grown men with weapons, but their devotion to Ewa doesn’t make their actions feel any less immature. For such a gorgeous, thoughtful film, The Immigrant is more of an intellectual experience than an emotional one – mainly as a result of Ewa’s commiserating but never quite heartbreaking problems.

The Immigrant is a simple love story in an undoubtedly terrifying adult world of hate, fear and abandonment. The film unfolds at its own pace, building slowly, perhaps even tediously towards its emotionally relieving conclusion.  Such an incredible movie – and so cold too.

★★★★☆