Tag Archives: romantic drama

The Painted Veil – Review

7 Apr

Way back in 1925 a book was written called The Painted Veil, which told a story of love, heartbreak, and betrayal in the midst of a cholera epidemic in rural China. I’m not sure what the initial reaction was to the novel, but it spawned a plethora of adaptations dating back to 1934 and starring Greta Garbo. Another adaptation happened in 1957 with the film The Seventh Sin, an overlooked movie that cost MGM a great deal of money. The version I’m going to be talking about is the 2006 film starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. The Painted Veil is one of those movies where I’m really glad to have watched it, but it’s not something that’s going to stick with me for very long.

Kitty (Naomi Watts) is a well known and admired socialite who has no real interest in doing much of anything with her life, despite the pleas of her parents to find someone to marry and build a family with. Kitty is taken off guard one night when she meets a bacteriologist named Walter (Edward Norton) who asks her to marry him the next time they meet. She agrees to the marriage for the sole purpose of getting as far away as possible from her family. The couple move to Shanghai for Walter to continue his work, but Kitty meets Charlie (Liev Schreiber), a British government official, and they begin an affair. Walter quickly learns this and volunteers for a position to study Cholera in a rural village suffering from an epidemic. He brings Kitty along as a punishment and threatens to create a scandal if she doesn’t accompany him. It is in the middle of the sickness and the death that Kitty and Walter are forced to face mortality and their own selves to discover what is really important in their lives.

The first thing that pops out at me in The Painted Veil, and where I think the film is most successful, is in its production design. This is a gorgeous looking movie that’s beautifully shot and filled with excellent costumes and set designs. Being a period piece, it’s very important that the film has a sense of time and place, and this one knows and understands its time very well. This is why I really love well made period pieces, because they have the ability to transport you to a time that you’ve never seen before or never had the chance to experience. This also comes in handy when dealing with the plot point of a cholera epidemic. It hits the viewer hard and director John Curran pulled no punches in showing the horror that these people went through before a real cure was found.

You can clearly tell that the studio and makers of this film were really trying to push this movie as Oscar bait. Unfortunately, it never got to that point. I will say that they cast the right actors to get audiences’ attention, including mine. I think Edward Norton and Naomi Watts are two powerhouse actors, and usually give their all to whatever movie they’re in. The same can be said about their performances in The Painted Veil. They have really good chemistry together, which makes it all the more upsetting when the hostility between their characters reach their boiling points. There’s also real fear behind the stone wall façades that the two characters have built up, which make them feel all the more human. There’s also some great performances by the film’s minor roles with Toby Jones and Anthony Wong.

It’s hard to pinpoint where this movie falters, but I can’t help shake the feeling that the full potential of this film wasn’t reached. It may be that this story and its archetypal characters have been seen a dozen times before since the original story was written way back in 1925. There’s lots of flash in the production design and the acting, but I knew exactly where the story was going to go before I even started watching the movie. I had a good idea of what was going to happen based on the plot summary and most things I predicted came true. That takes a lot of joy and fun out of watching a movie since it feels like I’ve seen it all before. There are certain plot points in movie that can be predictable and have the movie remain intact, but when I can guess the entire movie, beat by beat, it kind of makes me rethink how entertaining the movie actually was.

I’m glad that I watched The Painted Veil because it has some really great production design, very good acting, and an interesting enough hook to get me engaged in the story. I feel as if I don’t need to see it again, however, because at the end of it all it was a very predictable film. It doesn’t dare to be different from any other romantic period drama, and it actually seems to try really hard to stay within the parameters of a very exact formula. If anyone ever asks me if they should watch The Painted Veil, I’d say sure, but I’d never go out of my way to recommend it.

Final Grade: B

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Blue Valentine – Review

20 Nov

Before Blue Valentine was released in 2010, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the rating that I think helped boost its recognition a little bit, and I was worried that the hype around the movie was going to ruin the entire experience for me. Well, after 4 years, I’ve finally gotten around to seeing this movie, and I can’t really say that I’m disappointed. There are plenty of things that make this movie great and worth a viewing, but my own personal taste tells me that I’m really not going to have to sit down and watch the movie again.

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This film chronicles the relationship of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) in an interesting way, but the love they have for each other is ultimately doomed to fail. In the past, Cindy was facing the end of a bad romantic entanglement and an unexpected pregnancy when she meets Dean, who shows her a much more fun and easy going side to life. Dean is even willing to step in and help her with the baby even though it is obvious that it isn’t his. Five years later, they are married and raising their daughter, Frankie (Faith Wladyka). Both are good parents, but have seemed to have lost touch with what made their relationship so great in the first place. Dean and Cindy both decide to go out for a night and try to rekindle the spark that they had, but only succeed in making their situation worse.

I understand that this movie is really good. I can see that it is, clear as day. There’s just some unknown variable that exists that makes me not really want to watch it again. Maybe I found the entire experience a bit too cynical, but then again, that cynicism is a big part of the story and the message that writer/director Derek Cianfrance is trying to give. So it’s not that I don’t understand what he’s trying to say, it’s just all sort of depressing. There have been films with this message I’ve seen in the past like 500 Days of Summer and Annie Hall, both of which deal with doomed relationships, but there’s something about Blue Valentine that looks at it in such a hopeless an negative way, sort of like real life. So, yes, I do appreciate and understand Cianfrance’s frankness, but that doesn’t mean it makes for a very entertaining movie.

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By far, the best part of this movie is the acting. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams give two of the most honest performances that I’ve ever seen in a movie. The director had a lot of ways to get that kind of chemistry between them, so credit also goes to him. It’s clear that a lot of what the actors are saying is improvised or even some of their actions, and that is what gives this movie such a real feeling. Even through all the cynical remarks and devil may care attitude that doesn’t always work for me in movies, I still bought it because of their strong performances. Williams was actually nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in this, which pretty much had to happen considering how excellent she was.

I just really couldn’t get into the style of Blue Valentine. I felt like it was a romance movie that was trying to be different at times. Most times it definitely succeeded at being unique, but I often felt, especially during one nice scene where Cindy dances to Dean’s ukelele music, that the movie was just trying to hard. But you know what, this is all just my personal preferences coming into it. I can see how this movies appeals to other people, and I definitely see that it is a well made film. There’s just something about this style that I can’t really get into, and I often checked the time throughout this entire movie.

This was a really hard review to like, because part of me was saying to just write how well made it was and how technically proficient it all is and how the writing and acting is all really good. It all is. All of those things are really good, and for those reasons I’m glad that I’ve seen this movie at least once. The other part of me doesn’t want to see it again because I just couldn’t get into the mood or the style of the movie, but as I said before I can see how it would appeal to other people and for good reason. Objectively speaking, Blue Valentine is a really good movie, but it just didn’t sit too well with me.

Her – Review

3 Feb

What do you think people would say 50 or 60 years ago if you were to tell them that in the future we would be talking and dating people we met on a crazy invention called the internet? Wouldn’t be even stranger to try to explain that sometimes people don’t even each other before they begin a relationship? We have entered a crazy time in social networking and relationships, where our connectivity is almost crucial to our friends and significant others. Her not only explores this in a way that doesn’t seem like it’s been said a hundred and ten times, and it also provided a more than worthy love story that may arguably be the best since Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.

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Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a sad and lonely man who works for a company that writes personal letters for other people. Theodore has been avoiding signing the divorce papers from his wife and childhood friend Catherine (Rooney Mara), and as a result has become introverted and uninterested in any kinds of relationships, including rarely seeing his good friend Amy (Amy Adams). One day, Theodore purchases an OS (Scarlett Johansson), or Operating System, that he customizes to have a female voice, and when he learns that this computer is able to think for itself and have an identity the two become friends. The OS names herself Samantha, and her and Theodore begin a romantic relationship. Life seems to finally be going well for him until it becomes apparent that Samantha is learning and evolving in a much faster rate than can ever have been expected.

While Spike Jonze doesn’t have a particularly long filmography, you can’t argue that it isn’t impressive. Films like Adaptation and Being John Malkovich have proven that he is an exceptional film maker, and his background in music videos also shows that he has a good visual style. Now with Her, he shows that he has major talent in the writing department. Jonze deftly mixes his absurdist humor with some real, down to earth human drama. That might sound kind of odd considering what this movie is about and how crazy the storyline is, but I feel like a lot of people could connect with the characters in this movie.

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It really says a lot about the actors in this movie how they are able to build such a great relationship, even when they don’t see each other face to face and don’t even touch in any sort of way. Joaquin Phoenix handles the arc of his character very well and Scarlett Johansson, who only provides her voice for the film, does a great job at making a computer as lovable as the HAL 9000 was feared. Amy Adams also does a good job as Theodore’s documentary film making, hipster friend who plays on the cliches of that demographic in a very funny way. As good as the actors all are, if it wasn’t for Spike Jonze’s incredibly strange screenplay, complete with believable and human dialogue, Her wouldn’t be as great a film as it is.

Most of all, I think, is that I really like what Jonze is trying to say with this movie. It’s a pretty obvious statement on the case of relationships and friendships that have become very impersonal thanks to online social networking, where you don’t even have to be near the person to have a full blown conversation. It’s also a clever look at the future, and the kind of things that may or may not be acceptable if we keep going on the same path that we’re on. Not only is its messages something to listen to, but it was refreshing to see a love story that is different from the ones that come out all the time that pretty much seem to be following the same formula and have the same characters.

Her is a real one of a kind movie that made me so happy once it was over. This isn’t because the movie is especially hilarious and uplifting, because it’s actually a really sad experience. I was happy because it was just so well written, filmed, and acted and that it provided me with a different trip than I’m used to. It is a very absurd movie with an outlandish plot, but if you can get past that you will really appreciate everything about Her.