Dec 07

“Love Actually”: Holiday Favorite Back in Theaters

Love Actually is irresistible. You’d have to be Ebenezer Scrooge not to walk out smiling. Claudia Puig, IFC Center

And now, 20 years later, you have the opportunity to leave your couch-based streaming and return to a theater to see the better-sounding, better-looking re-issue—and walk out smiling. It includes a 10-minute pre-show consisting of interviews and various tidbits about the film’s creation.

Surprisingly, when Love Actually initially entered theaters in 2003 it received a lot of negative reviews. That didn’t stop it, though, from becoming an enduring favorite.

If it’s not something you’ve seen already, perhaps you’ve seen the often parodied “cue card” scene. One example (from SNL) followed Hillary Clinton‘s presidential election loss to you know who. It’s called “Hillary Actually” and stars Kate McKinnon—and still today rings bitterly sweet, funny, and relevant:

The actual movie scene spoofed above involves Mark (Andrew Lincoln) coming to the home of the wife (Keira Knightley) of his best friend and has been called “the stalker scene” by some viewers. Writer/director Richard Curtis now sees how problematic it is (The Independent).

“He actually turns up, to his best friend’s house, to say to his best friend’s wife, on the off chance that she answers the door, ‘I love you,'” Curtis said. “think it’s a bit weird. I mean, I remember being taken by surprise about seven years ago, I was going to be interviewed by somebody and they said, ‘Of course, we’re mainly interested in the stalker scene,’ and I said, ‘What scene is that?’ And then I was, like, educated in it.'”

More Info for Those Who Haven’t Seen Love Actually

Set mostly in London in the five weeks leading up to Christmas, Love Actually features a bunch of interconnected stories with a theme of—you guessed it—love, actually. And there’s an old song by The Troggs that figures prominently, “Love Is All Around,” that one main character, a recording artist, adapts for the holiday.

Many big names, including Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, Laura Linney, Billy Bob Thornton, and Alan Rickman, star in Love Actually. In addition to the misgivings about the cue-card scene, Curtis has also recently stated: “The lack of diversity makes me feel uncomfortable and a bit stupid” (USA Today, 2022).

Additional info regarding the film’s dynamics and flaws from a recent review by Francesca Carington, The Guardian: “Many of the plots reward underdogs, which is cheering; the majority of them foreground a male perspective, which is not…(M)any of the things people object to now were raised by critics in 2003. Too hetero, too many fat jokes, too many relationships between a man and his female subordinate, too American, too cloying, too many plotlines. It’s unlikely the opening reference to 9/11 in support of Curtis’s manifesto that ‘love, actually, is all around’ went down much better 20 years ago than it does now, either.”

Love is actually all around, however, and this is an appealing feature. “The multistranded-ness of the film contributes, in part, to its longevity. While the saddest subplots – those with Thompson and Linney, crestfallen, open-hearted and magnificent – are indisputably the best, the portrayal of the many configurations of love rewards repeat viewing.”

Roger EbertChicago Sun-Times: “The movie’s only flaw is also a virtue: It’s jammed with characters, stories, warmth and laughs, until at times Curtis seems to be working from a checklist of obligatory movie love situations and doesn’t want to leave anything out.”

Dec 16

“Collateral Beauty”: Misguided Grief Therapy

Loving support is offered to grief-stricken Howard (Will Smith) in Collateral Beauty, the star-packed film with the interesting title and trailer you were hoping was this year’s holiday heart-warmer. Think again, say most critics.

“Love, Time, Death. These three things connect every single human being on earth. We long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death,” states Howard at the start of the trailer:

Plot development as described by critic Peter Bradshaw, Guardian:

This horrifyingly yucky, toxically cutesy ensemble dramedy creates a Chernobyl atmosphere of manipulative sentimentality, topped off with an ending which M Night Shyamalan might reject as too ridiculous. This isn’t Frank Capra. It is emotional literacy porn, like an aspirational self-help bestseller written by Keyser Söze. At the end of it, I screamed the way polar bears are supposed to when they get their tongues frozen to the ice.

Will Smith plays a super-brilliant ad exec with a Ted-talking visionary schtick about connectivity. But when he tragically loses his six-year-old to cancer, poor Will becomes a mumbling semi-crazy hermit who is in danger of running his company into the ground. He starts writing letters to abstract concepts like Death, Love and Time, to rail at them. So his sorrowing colleagues – Ed Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Peña – cook up a sneaky plan. They intercept the letters and hire three actors, played by Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Jacob Latimore, to go up to Will in the street and argue with him, pretending to be Death, Love and Time. (They could also have hired Jack Black to be Eat and Morgan Freeman to be Pray – but I guess there were copyright issues.)

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter:

Even if it hadn’t come along so soon after Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s symphonic drama about a father emotionally crippled by loss, Collateral Beauty would look like silly high-concept Hollywood grief porn.

It’s a ludicrous plot device, right out of Gaslight, as Brigitte [Mirren] observes…

Good thing (?) Howard has his group therapy led by Madeleine (Naomie Harris), who’s also lost a child. Dan Callahan, The Wrap: “…Madeleine tells Howard about being at the hospital when an older woman turned to her to say that she must appreciate the ‘collateral beauty’ of her situation. Yes, Harris is actually made to say the ultra-lame title of this movie out loud — more than once — and she acts as if it is the most profound statement in the world.”

Peter Bradshaw, Guardian: Collateral beauty is “…like collateral damage only positive. Moments of loss are offset by revelations of human wonder at the resulting gestures of compassion and kindness. At least …I think that is how ‘collateral beauty’ is supposed to work because no-one in this movie spells it out – perhaps because doing so would reveal the concept to be dishonest nonsense.”

Matt Singer, ScreenCrush: “I still don’t know what ‘collateral beauty’ means.” Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: “Forget ‘Collateral Beauty,’ whatever that means. This is ‘Collateral Schmaltz,’ the kind that has the power to close rather than open your heart as you rush out of the theater while the terribly named One Direction ballad, ‘Let’s Hurt Tonight,’ provides exit music.”

Leah Greenblatt, ew.com:  “These actors are too good to be entirely sunk by the sheer silliness of the material (with the exception of Smith, who seems fully committed to playing the role of a human frown-face emoji). But for all good Intentions, they can’t save a movie that so clearly wants to be something greater– It’s a Will-derful Life? Grief, Actually?—but mostly ends up a Collateral mess.”

Feb 14

“Atonement”: For Your Anti-Valentine’s Consideration

But how can a person atone? Some wrongs can’t be righted. Some crimes can’t be forgiven. When a moment is lost, it’s lost. Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle, regarding Atonement

Always for some reason interested in what’s new in Anti-Valentine’s sentiments, I came across the listing ofAtonement, a favorite movie of mine from 2007, as someone’s idea of something to watch if you’re a viewer who isn’t feeling so Valentine-y, whether now or ever.

Atonement, based on the novel by Ian McEwan, is about love, yes, but it’s actually a romance of the tragic kind—as well as a mystery of sorts.

Many who’d read the book were afraid the movie wouldn’t do it justice. Most were more than pleased with the results.

Atonement starts out in rural England, 1935. We meet 13-year-old aspiring writer Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan). She and her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) are of an upper crust family, whereas Cecilia’s romantic interest, Robbie (James McAvoy), has working-class roots.

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle, sets up the initial scenes, which reveal how Briony’s youth and situational confusion heralds major trouble:

Briony is the sister of Cecilia (Knightley), who is in love with Robbie (McAvoy), though he doesn’t know it. For the first few minutes of the film, we see Cecilia and Robbie’s burgeoning passion through the hungry but uncomprehending gaze of Briony. From an upstairs window, she witnesses an odd scene that seems faintly depraved to her eyes. And then, in the first indication that this is no Jane Austen retread, the movie does something narratively innovative: It rewinds the clock by about 15 minutes and shows us the same incident from the perspective of Cecilia and Robbie. It’s much more innocent the second time.

‘Atonement’ soon turns into a film that puts viewers on the edge of their seats wanting to know what happens next. The turn comes no more than 20 minutes in, with an event that’s so compelling and surprising that no one reading this deserves to have it spoiled. (Friendly advice: Don’t read any other reviews.)

I agree. If you haven’t ever seen Atonement, skip trying to know too many details about it beforehand. It’s better that way.

How about some sweeping and brief summaries instead?

Roger Ebert: “‘Atonement’ begins on joyous gossamer wings, and descends into an abyss of tragedy and loss. Its opening scenes in an English country house between the wars are like a dream of elegance, and then a 13-year-old girl sees something she misunderstands, tells a lie and destroys all possibility of happiness in three lives, including her own.”

Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times: “Ian McEwan’s beautiful novel, masterfully adapted for the screen by Christopher Hampton and directed by Joe Wright (‘Pride & Prejudice’), is at its heart about language and its power: about the way a lie told by a child — inspired by a letter not intended for her eyes — changes the lives of those who hear it; and how that child later longs to make things right again…”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “…(I)t’s a story of a youthful jealousy that leads to a monstrous falsehood that in turn ruins the lives of a disparate group of people, and ultimate retribution that comes decades too late.”

The trailer, of course, hints at more:

Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times: “On paper and on screen, ‘Atonement’ is a story of rare beauty, both wrenching and wise.”

Jan 18

“A Dangerous Method”: Three Psychoanalysts Depicted

In a previous post about scary boundary-breaking by therapists, I described the based-on-a-true-story film A Dangerous Method (2011), which wasn’t yet in theaters. Now it is, and in a couple months or so it will be released on DVD.

Today’s post will use excerpts from film reviews/articles to focus on the characterizations in the movie of the three depicted analysts: Freud, Jung, and Spielrein.

Rex ReedNew York Observer, regarding A Dangerous Method: “…a psychological tug of war between the father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortenson), and his disciple Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) over the mind and sex of an overwrought mental patient named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a mad Russian with a craving for spanking. Whacking her on her naked bottom must have worked. She ended up, years later, analyzing patients of her own. Too bad she didn’t also analyze this movie. It would have saved so much wasted time.”

(Ouch, Spielrein herself might have said.)

Lisa Kennedy, The Denver Post, states that “David Cronenberg’s elegant historical drama ‘A Dangerous Method’ begins and ends in a way that recalls one of Sigmund Freud’s better-known quotes.”

“‘Much has been gained,’ he told a patient, ‘if we succeed in turning your hysterical misery into common unhappiness.'”

(In modern psychiatry there is no longer a diagnosis of “hysterical neurosis.” The current DSM uses “conversion disorder,” basically defined as the conversion of emotional issues into physical symptoms. For the upcoming revised edition of the DSM, “functional neurological disorder” is being considered as the next replacement term.)

J. Hoberman, Village Voice: “…The protean Fassbender plays a proper Jung, steely yet agonized; Mortensen’s self-amused, paranoid Freud is a more unusual piece of work. Mind ablaze, he sees repression everywhere. The mystical Jung believes that nothing happens by accident; for Freud, all accidents have meaning.”

(And for Spielrein, her therapy is an accident waiting to happen.)

Dr. Sandra Fenster, Ph.D., psychoanalyst (from a post on Psychology Today): “…Jung lost his objectivity–something an analyst cannot afford to do. With his patient, Sabina Spielrein, Jung’s own insatiable needs got the best of him; he confused them for hers. That is what analysis is not. And, that is the danger in the method.”

(And this is the voice of reason.)