Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “The Notebook”

The Other Woman

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th April 2014

A standoff between wife, mistress and cheating Lothario is truly the stuff melodrama is made of, but made infinitely more pleasurable to witness when instead of screaming at each other, the women band together to seek revenge. Such is the situation for The Other Woman in this female-strong but not quite feminist take on infidelity.

Director Nick Cassavetes is at home in chick-flick territory, having helmed the smash-hit The Notebook and other chick-lit adaptations such as My Sister’s Keeper. His career shows no sign of getting grittier as here he reunites with Cameron Diaz to cast her as a hotshot lawyer who discovers her perfect new boyfriend is married. Intending to cut the jerk loose and move on, she becomes embroiled in the neurotic panic of his wife (a too-cutesy-but-she’s-terrific-anyway Leslie Mann, staple comic wife/sister in Judd Apatow films) who is intent on bringing the philanderer down but doesn’t have the smarts to know how (“Does this mean he’s not training for a marathon??” she cries, post-revelation).

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the so-called Bechdel test – the cinephile’s appraisal of how women fare in film according to the three criteria of whether: 1) there are two named female characters in a film; 2) they have a conversation with each other; and 3) the conversation is about something other than a man. (Needless to say, Hollywood’s results are usually damning.)

The Other Woman starts with promise in that it boasts not two but three leading ladies (plus a cameo from singer Nicki Minaj as the bolshy PA), and boy do they talk a lot. But the premise of this film demands that aside from the odd compliment about shoes or sexy underwear, their preoccupations revolve solely around how to ruin the life of the charmingly callous Mark (Danish hunk Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from Headhunters).

While it’s a Bechdel fail, on the whole the film succeeds thanks to the charm of its leads (a minxy Diaz playing the straight girl to Mann’s undisputed knack for physical comedy) and some laugh-out-loud truisms in the script. Inevitably there is poop-humour (sigh), and where there are boobs, they are given the slo-mo, running-in-a-bikini treatment. With a ridiculous ending that nonetheless amused my audience, The Other Woman at least puts the women centre stage. Maybe next time they’ll get only the best lines.


The Lucky One

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 22nd April 2012

If you’ve watched the trailer, you might feel you have seen the whole story before you even sit down. A young American marine finds a photo of a beautiful girl in the horrors of the Iraq war, and on his return home he goes on a mission to find her. Hmm, how do you think this will go? Zac Efron (Hairspray, Me and Orson Welles) is as talented as he is handsome, but could he redeem the inevitable, mawkish cliche of a Nicholas Sparks novel? Having baulked at The Last Song and The Notebook and avoided Dear John altogether, I felt surely not.

Certainly, the story is straightforward, the relationships pretty uncomplicated – but Efron and co-star Taylor Schilling (surprisingly lovely and natural in her first major role) somehow manage to scythe through the lack of narrative innovation and give us something with real heart.

Efron plays the shell-shocked marine, bulked-up and battle-scarred, locking down his natural charisma to play a deeply affected war vet. The fact he still manages to be compelling may, in this instance, have more to do with his manly physique than his usual boyish grin, but thanks to his chemistry with Schilling’s Beth (herself wounded by loss), Efron’s Logan presents as a good catch. He loves dogs, respects his elders, and practically has Protect and Serve tattooed on to his torso. Meanwhile, Beth is raising her son, battling a controlling ex-husband, and looks fabulous in floral dresses and cut-off shorts.

The fact that this isn’t awful must surely be down to director Scott Hicks. Hicks made Geoffrey Rush a star in Shine all those years ago. He has a good eye and sharp instincts.

Set in balmy North Carolina amongst golden hues and trickling streams, Logan may just find his peace and his place in life. It’s not new, it’s not clever, but it ticks the boxes.

Water for Elephants

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 8 May 2011

It’s sometimes difficult, when discussing the film adaptation of a book, to consider it on its own merits as a standalone work of art.  Readers of Sara Gruen’s novel of the same name will no doubt have made their own casting choices, but hopefully they will be pleased with the largely faithful cinematic result.

Twilight’s Robert Pattinson gets some colour in his cheeks and proves he can do romantic along with a boyish smile, as Jacob, a young man whose promising future as a veterinarian is shattered one day, sending him out into the world to seek a different fortune.  Leaping aboard a passing train, he finds himself swept into the world of the Benzini Bros Circus, training their star elephant, and falling for the boss’s wife (a beguiling turn from Reese Witherspoon).

It’s little wonder the book was pilfered for the screen.  There is no better medium for exploiting the colours and drama of a circus, and the Depression-era setting, with its fabulous costuming and Prohibition-be-damned guzzling of champagne and Moonshine, evokes an exciting life.  The casting is reliable – all the extras have true “old-timer” faces, and the leads are uniformly compelling, particularly Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz (who shot to English-language fame in the recent Tarantino cannonball Inglourious Basterds) playing circus owner August.  Waltz walks the tightrope between generous and loving, driven and possessive, in a character that could have wound up two-dimensional in the hands of others.  His strength lies in combining an underlying menace with vulnerability, and in response Witherspoon’s Marlena is strong and compassionate towards him, eschewing the dumb blonde.

Circus life isn’t all fun and games of course, and the film seems a bit by-numbers at times, meandering plot-point to plot-point with clichés bootlegged from fare like The Notebook.  The forbidden romance itself is a slow-burn, though the chemistry is just about right to keep us caring.  This is definitely a film for animal lovers, with exciting stunt work and a proper old-fashioned circus feel to the proceedings.  Worth a ticket.

Blue Valentine / Hall Pass

These reviews first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 6th March 2011

Blue Valentine

While both can be affecting, there is a big difference in quality between a clichéd interpretation of true love and one that is authentic.  In his film career, Ryan Gosling has given us both.  The undisputedly successful but arguably trite The Notebook is an example of the former and, with considerable kudos to the Academy Award nominee, Blue Valentine is a supreme illustration of the latter.

Playing a young married father opposite the equally talented (and Oscar-nominated) Michelle Williams, Gosling inhabits his character, all rambling, intense and chain-smoking, to the extent you find yourself completely riveted by this story of a couple whose six-year marriage has reached a turning point.  Williams plays harried mother and reluctant wife with honesty and a complete lack of vanity, never striving to come out “the good guy”, and thus giving us a painfully believable rendition of how real relationships can blossom – and then wilt.

This is clearly a passion project for director Derek Cianfrance who spent 11 years getting the film made, and his commitment to the story he wanted to tell since his parents’ divorce during childhood is evident in the film’s quality.  With a narrative that trips back and forth between the halcyon days of early blooming romance and the couple’s contemporary world of loss and disillusionment, the photography perfectly mirrors the tone – shooting the good old days in free, hand-held, super 16mm film, and the present on fixed-shot digital, full of suffocating close-ups.  While the feeling of dread is often palpable, this is not an out-and-out depressing film (compared perhaps with the similarly well-acted Revolutionary Road).  There are plenty of uplifting moments between father and daughter and Dean and Cindy’s courtship is as charming as any one could wish for, with his shop-front performance of “You Always Hurt the One you Love” one of the highlights.

The actors deserve their award nominations, and the respect garnered by films such as Half Nelson and Brokeback Mountain.  Oozing charisma in the very best, non-manipulative way, they have an on-screen chemistry that leaves you wondering if, regardless of the outcome of their fictional relationship, Gosling and Williams should be a couple in real life.

Hall Pass

And so, from the sublime to the frankly ridiculous.  If you prefer your roms with more com, laced with the obligatory scatological humour of all Farrelly Brothers movies, a smattering of B-grade stars and a pointless police chase, then Hall Pass may be more the date-night movie you’re looking for.

The wives in this film clearly haven’t seen Blue Valentine – because they think their marriages are in crisis, they issue their dopey, girl-ogling husbands (Owen Wilson and Saturday Night Live alumnus Jason Sudeikis) with a “week off marriage”.  The men’s initial reluctance rapidly turns into the enthusiasm which drives every “grass is always greener” fantasy and they embark on a 7-day excursion to make the most of their freedom.

In support, Extras’ Stephen Merchant (really just playing Extras’ Darren) provides some of the big laughs and there is a surprising turn from Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins as a rather odious, advice-giving bachelor.

For a fleeting moment it even seems as though the most of the female characters are being treated with respect, until an unfortunate incident in a hotel bathroom.  Despite coming from the same school as The Hangover, this is the dunce of the class.

If only The Last Song were Cyrus’ last movie

One should really review a film on its own merits, and not as an adaptation of the best-selling book it derives from, or the remake of a classic movie we loved as kids. 

So while it’s hard not to approach the new Miley Cyrus flick, and its story of a teenager’s renewed relationship with her father, with thought to her alter-ego Hannah Montana, or indeed comparisons with the real-life relationship between Cyrus and her music star dad, coming to it fresh paid off. 

In The Last Song, Cyrus (now 17, all pouty lips and dark tresses à la Kristen Twilight Stewart) plays rebellious teenager Veronica “Ronnie” Miller, sent from the big smoke to a seaside town to spend the summer with her estranged father (played with typically good-natured ease by Greg Kinnear).  With her cute but wise little brother Jonah as a foil, Ronnie follows the standard grumpy teen trajectory of rebelling and falling in with bad company, before being wooed by the local cool kid, Will, a charming but improbable combination of Tolstoy-spouting, volleyball-playing, aquarium-volunteering, mechanic (played by Aussie newcomer Liam Hemsworth).  It is a tribute to Hemsworth that he manages to defuse Ronnie’s clichéd prickliness and make their scenes together truthful and engaging.

Director Julie Anne Robinson comes fresh from a career in television, but has reliable material in the shape of Nicholas The Notebook Sparks’ screenplay.  As with that huge hit (which, despite popular opinion, I loathed), The Last Song is totally formulaic and draws as much on caricatures of bigoted parents and rebellious teens as it does the undeniable charisma of its young lead actors.  The story, though predictable, is however  reasonably well-handled so you forgive the lack of intrigue, and the performances are largely engaging.  By the final reel you may know what’s coming but, even so, you’re pleased when it does.

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