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Posts Tagged ‘Reel Review’

Adapting poetry to television or film is a formidable challenge; unlike prose or drama, poetry relies more heavily on form and syntax than description and plot. “The Song of Lunch,” however, deftly transforms those literary challenges into an engaging short film from the BBC.

“The Song of Lunch,” a 50-minute film based on the poem of the same name by Christopher Reid, stars Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. Rickman is the unnamed narrator and anti-hero, a middle-age publishing house copy editor and failed poet. He is meeting the similarly unnamed Thompson, his ex of 15 years, for a reunion lunch at the Italian restaurant they frequented as a couple.

Upon arriving he finds that the place, Zanzotti’s, has not been so stuck in time as he. The restaurant, once dark, smoky, noisy, richly and almost stereotypically Italian, seems to be under new management — or mismanagement, he dryly notes. Fringed, checkered tablecloths have been replaced with clean white linens; the waiters, once old and swarthy “like a pirate crew,” are now young, chipper; the menu prominently features overly fancy pizzas, some kind of anathema to him. Unpleased, he nevertheless orders a bottle of Chianti and hunkers down to brood and wait for her arrival.

She, of course, likes the new restaurant and says as much, rattling his enhanced memories of their shared past. Here, at the beginning, time moves slowly, painfully so, giving him time to narrate (the film being fairly light on dialogue) as well as mirroring his hyperaware state of mind. He narrates his thoughts on her hair, the wrinkles crowding her knuckle and her friendly interaction with the waiter, whom she asks for menu advice.

“She doesn’t need it,” his voiceover notes, “but it’s her style to entrust herself in unimportant matters, pose questions that are easy to answer, and, indeed, it makes the waiter smile when, tapping the menu decisively, she requests the pumpkin ravioli because he has recommended it, with sea bass to follow.”

The ongoing narration would be maddening if not for the quality of the underlying poem, the expert delivery by Rickman and, as so often it is in real life, copious amounts of alcohol. She stops at one glass, but he continues on unabated, even ordering a second bottle (and grappa to follow). In these instances the ongoing narration, ostensibly provided by him, provides a humorous aspect to his otherwise disheartening alcoholic intake. “He has killed a bottle, almost singlehanded. When he seizes the new one and nods it in her direction, her flattened hand places an interdiction on the half-full glass that would be half-empty to him.”

On several occasions the need for narration colludes surprisingly well with the awkwardness of the film’s visual cues. Caught yet again gaping rather lecherously at her, he wanly explains, “It’s the old male gaze,” adding through voiceover, “Through alcoholic haze.”

She, for one, is unappreciative of his tipsy humor.

“Typical. You can’t even pay attention for the few minutes we have. I’ve come all this way, dropped my family at not the most convenient moment, hopped on the shuttle, taken the taxi ride from hell, convinced at every traffic light I’d be late, and here I am, all tuned up for our little reunion only to find your physical guzzling tippling self recognizable present but your mind appears to have flitted off on holiday. You’re out to lunch at your own lunch.”

For him, the meeting is no real blast from the past. He is old, and a failure, toiling away at the publisher’s and basking in the pallor of his own literary illness. In his book of poetry, she tells him, the metaphor fell apart because he thought he was writing about her when in fact he himself was the hidden muse. The vanity is astounding, not merely in part because he refuses to acknowledge it.

“The Song of Lunch” is gauche, awkward, claustrophobic and wonderful. His feelings of entrapment mesh expertly with the close-ups, composing the vast majority of the film, the extended zoom transforming into disquieting portraiture. Both Thompson and Rickman, who carries the majority of the dramatic load, shine as former intimates searching for some part of their storied past in a present that, for him at least, is unpalatably worse. For one short, midday meal, he comes face to face with both his ex and, worse, himself.

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“Easy A” is a clumsy but likable tribute to John Hughes’ ’80s teen flicks like “The Breakfast Club,” “Sixteen Candles,” and “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.” Likable because it deftly updates Hughes’ themes for contemporary times; clumsy because it’s bold-faced enough to actually admit that’s what it’s doing.

Emma Stone stars as Olive Penderghast, a witty (and virginal) high school student in sunny California. One day, she embellishes her otherwise dull weekend at home by telling her best friend about sleeping with a boy at a local community college. Olive enjoys the brief attention Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka), herself known for vague but persistent rumors of amorous encounters, pays her. Unfortunately, the fabrication is overheard by Marianne, the school Jesus freak, competently portrayed by Amanda Bynes. Soon Olive’s supposed reputation has spread throughout the student body, and the formerly unknown entity becomes infamous for “doing it.”

Olive’s popped cherry would have been a flavor-of-the-week at her school, but then her friend Brandon propositioned her — not for sex but rather to pretend to have sex. Brandon, convincingly played by Dan Byrd, is gay, and for some reason is tormented even at a California school where Rhiannon’s parents frequently eat dinner topless while guests twist their forks uncomfortably. Olive reluctantly agrees to fake a fling, and the next night they attend a raucous party, lock a bedroom door and proceed to jump on the bed, fake moan and muss each other’s hair as half the school listens at the keyhole. Brandon emerges with “proof” of his heterosexuality, to cheers and fist bumps; Olive performs the walk of shame, seemingly surprised at the double standard.

The story — and Olive’s reputation — quickly go downhill from there. A succession of losers slip Olive gift cards for the right to claim they got to second base or home plate; Olive doesn’t seem happy about this quasi-prostitution (complaining to one suitor about his payment of a 20 percent off coupon to Bed, Bath and Beyond, Olive asks, “Is that how much our imaginary tryst meant to you? I fake rocked your world.”), but she goes along with it as her infamy snowballs out of control.

The high school of “Easy A” is populated by teenagers who talk about sex but never seem to have it. Facebook is heard of but not seen. Olive’s villains, Marianne and her band of nitwit religious nuts, are laughably chipper and exuberant — and, as a scene depicting an actual picketing of Olive with signs reading “Jezebel” and “Slut” proves, they have a lot of time on their hands.

Written by Bert V. Royal and directed by Will Gluck, “Easy A” benefits from some quality performances and strikes plenty of humorous notes. Olive’s supportive but hands-off parents, expertly played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, drop plenty of witty repartee with their daughter. Byrd’s performance of the closeted Brandon is as compelling as any character gets. And Stone shines while dropping comical yet alluring nostalgia bombs, including, “I always thought pretending to lose my virginity would have been a little more special. Judy Bloom should have prepared me for that.”

Unfortunately, there’s entirely too much else going on in this cluttered, overly short homage. Aside from those aforementioned truly excellent performances, the remainder of the cast are merely competent stock characters, including the crusading Christian girl, the jealous ex-best friend, the cougaresque guidance counselor and the gratuitously shirtless-slash-obvious knight in shining armor (Penn Badgley), who pops up from time to time as a beacon who forms his opinion of Olive based on his experience with her rather than unsubstantiated gossip. Olive’s webcam narrative, a framing device for the film, is tritely sprinkled throughout, leaving no reflection or analysis unsaid, including Olive’s penchant for Hughesian love stories.

Worse, the film is bogged down with a number of poorly thought-out and ultimately inconsequential side plots. The popular English teacher (Thomas Hayden Church) whose guidance counselor wife (Lisa Kudrow) cheats on him with a student receives no real closure. The vitriolic Marianne essentially fades away. Olive’s foray into religious guidance provides little more than an obvious confessional gag and a brief but entertaining cameo from Fred Armisen.

Tragically, “Easy A” buys into a similar moral as the Puritanical novel loosely tied in through grainy black-and-white footage, “The Scarlet Letter.” The school shuns Olive for her supposed promiscuity, and at no point does anyone stop to argue that perhaps it’s her own business and certainly not a problem requiring a loud protest by the parking lot. Whether in the seventeenth century or the twenty-first, the gender binary remains pronounced, a double standard remains in place and sex remains a dirty act for women and a studly one for men.

With its pop culture references and talented cast, “Easy A” strives to add up to more than the sum of its parts; however, at the end of the day, two plus two still equals four. Fortunately, four is pretty good by itself.

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“Single White Female” begins in a bathroom. Two twin girls, not older than eight, sit on a wide sink spread with Mommy’s makeup. They’re dressed in matching white dresses, wearing matching pearl earrings. They smile silently at each other as they apply red lipstick, suppressing giggles so they won’t get caught. It’s a private moment between the sisters, but one they share with us. When they look at the camera, level-eyed and covered in makeup, we become the third member of this hush-hush operation. A trio now, it’s our duty to keep our sisters’ secret. We’ve become the silent accessory, the third twin.

It’s this triangulation that will govern the rest of the movie. “Single White Female” is a story about a friendship between two women, and what happens to that friendship when obsession and murder get introduced. Through it all, we bear witness to a series of doublings and replications and are relegated to the role of third sister. We’re the odd woman out, unable to help or hinder but aware of the terror mounting onscreen. In this way, the movie works. The thrill comes from seeing both sides of the coin and yet not knowing whether to call heads or tails. Watching ‘Female’ is an exercise in restraint: as with most scary movies, you want to scream “Look out! Don’t go in there!” and yet with this one, that impulse feels especially futile. We’re the third twin, remember? That look the sisters gave us in the beginning has sealed our fate. We’ve been sworn to secrecy.

(A quick disclaimer might be necessary at this point in my review: “Single White Female” came out in 1992. If you’ve never heard of Barbet Schroeder, that’s okay, neither have I — although Wikipedia informs me he’s the director. I also have no idea who John Lutz is, but apparently he wrote the novel on which ‘Female’ is based. All I know is that I stayed up late watching this movie on Netflix, and I’m very happy I did.)

“Single White Female” stars Bridget Fonda (as in Henry, Peter and Jane) as Allie, a new New Yorker working the business end of the fashion industry. We meet her settling into a huge rent-controlled apartment and reeling from a breakup. We’re meant to see her as a modern bohemian, chatting with the gay guy upstairs and sporting a bright red pixie haircut. There’s a decidedly European air to Allie that comes across when she carries an armful of produce in a straw grocery bag and wears oversized Oxford shirts belted at the waist. We like her instantly. She’s our heroine.

Jenifer Jason Leigh (“Margot at the Wedding”) plays Hedy, the shy girl Allie enlists as her new roommate. Hedy’s duty is to remain silent and out of sight, for, due to some legal mumbo-jumbo, Allie can’t list Hedy on the lease for fear of losing the apartment. Hedy, clearly impressed by Allie’s beauty and fabulous lifestyle, quickly agrees to this sneaky arrangement. It’s fascinating to watch their budding friendship, a process the movie handles quite believably. Allie, still a mess from dumping her boyfriend, finds in Hedy a loyal girlfriend — her first in the big city. Hedy, so mousy and insecure, loves the attention shown to her by Allie and is more than happy to act as an emotional crutch during her new friend’s time of need.

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Please welcome to the ACG Blog contributor Greg Glazier. You can find out more about him at the About page.

“I Am Love” may not have been the best movie to see with my mother.

Starring Tilda Swinton (“The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Burn After Reading”) as Emma Recchi, a woman converted by love from brittle, helmet-quaffed housewife to naked-in-the-garden luvuh, this Italian import is all about mom gettin’ nasty.

Praise be to director Luca Guadagnino for saving me from what could’ve been a very Freudian 120 minutes. Our boy Luca never lets “I Am Love” stray toward cougar country, choosing instead to approach Emma’s sexuality as a twisted thing of beauty. There’s confusion here, and pain — conveyed through Swinton’s knock-out performance and the film’s truly astounding cinematography — so we never once see Emma as anything other than human. The film follows Emma negotiating sex and love not with the sitcom humor of older lady/younger dude, but with respect and honesty.

“I Am Love” begins with a dinner party held in honor of Emma’s father-in-law, a blueblood Italian textile magnate and aging patriarch. Emma hardly speaks in this scene, and the camera is more concerned with showing us her family’s mansion and the thousand maids who run it. Note the contrast between the servant quarters and the rooms employed by the family and you’ll begin to understand Emma’s life as a Recchi wife. Mother of three adult children and wealthy as a queen, her kingdom is museum-still. The real life of the household lies underground and out of sight in the kitchens, the linen closets, those narrow servant stairways the family never uses. What we have is a woman without a heartbeat who doesn’t appear to know her own deep unhappiness. Sure she’ll crack a smile when appropriate, sure she’ll give her children (all of whom are beautiful, by the way. The film’s cast alone is worth the price of admission! Seriously, everyone in “I Am Love” is model-gorgeous) a maternal peck on the forehead, but as the Black Eyed Peas ask, where is da luv?

Follow up question: where does this lack of love come from? Well, we learn slowly that Emma was transplanted from Russia to Italy by her husband to play the part of his loving wife. Not much backstory is given about this, but it’s enough to understand what the film is getting at: Emma’s true identity has been ripped away and the scars painted over. She has so successfully adapted to the role of Mrs. Recchi for years that she no longer knows who she once was. Emma is truly alone.

Enter Edoardo Gabbriellini, talented chef and best friend of Emma’s oldest son. We’ll pause now to catch our breaths, since Italian actor Antonio Biscaglia is damn good looking. Seriously, Google image search does not do this man justice — you have to see him move (and speak!) to understand how sexy he is in this role. “I Am Love” now enters the familiar territory of the Exotic Affair with a Foreign Man. This is the stuff of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” “Eat Pray Love,” and countless other escapist films for the menopausal set, but the chemistry between Swinton and Biscaglia is so believable that you won’t even care if this is a smidge cliché. The exquisite meals Antonio prepares for Emma, his tiny house up in the hills of Sanremo — it’s all engineered to make us swoon, but the sex is what’ll really get you. Guadagnino’s camera flicks between Emma’s naked breasts to a bee crawling on a thistle to Edoardo’s abs to a mushroom covered in dirt to Emma’s hand clutching the earth. The music builds. So does the passion. Give in to the filmic manipulation and enjoy one of the best (and most believable) onscreen orgasms you’ll ever see.

Also, props to Guadagnino for no airbrushing or hazy camera filters. This is a sex scene, moles and all. Again with the honesty. Love it.

From here the film becomes about what happens when Mom has sex with someone other than Dad. The ending of “I Am Love” is one I’d never give away — it’s too emotional, too brutal, too must-see for any spoilers. If you’re like me and love to give in to films about feelings, this one will leave you reeling. If you’re like me and you too saw “I Am Love” with your mom, you might leave the theater blushing at the thought of having to rehash the events of the movie with yo’ mama. Hopefully you’ll get over it and cherish the experience as one that proves that Women of a Certain Age have feelings too. And these feelings are profound and lovely and complicated — just like the feelings that make our own hearts go pitter-patter.

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