Category Archives: Movie Reviews

A History of Violence: A Review

A History of Violence

Tom Stall/Joey Cusack: Viggo Mortensen
Edie Stall: Maria Bello
Richie Cusack: William Hurt
Carl Fogarty: Ed Harris
Jack Stall: Ashton Holmes
Sarah Stall: Heidi Hayes
Sheriff Sam Carney: Peter MacNeill
Leland Jones: Stephen McHattie
Billy Orser: Greg Bryk

Directed by David Cronenberg

Running time: 96 minutes. Rated R

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.  READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

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There is a relatively new show on the Discovery Channel called Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?  As you might have guessed from the title, it’s about spouses who learn years into their marriage that the men or women they have married are hiding secret lives.  Some are serial killers, others drug dealers, rapists, etc.

Now one would think that this kind of scenario is pretty rare, but estimates say that there are several thousand married couples in the country who are hiding secret lives like this.  The reason I bring this up is because the plot summary for David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence sounds like it could be the next episode in the t.v. series.

Tom (Viggo Mortensen) and Edie Stall (Maria Bello) are living the good life.  No, they are not sitting on the beach drinking Margaritas.  Theirs is the small town kind where people say hello, and everyone knows one another.  Edie is a lawyer and Tom owns a small neighborhood diner.  They  have two children Jack (Ashton Holmes) and Sarah (Heidi Hayes), are respected by everyone they know, and are as passionately in love with one another now as they were nearly twenty years ago.  So essentially, life is good for the Stall clan.  All of that is about to change for good.

Late one night at his diner, two men attempt to rob Tom and assault his co-workers.  From the opening scene of the movie, we see these two men as cold blooded killers with no remorse, so we know what they are capable of.  Tom seemingly goes from a nice, unassuming man to hero by killing both men in a violent and spectacular fashion.  Suddenly Tom is a local hero and gains national press attention.

Before long however, the men that turn up outside his house and at his diner are worse than those he killed.  Led by Carl Fogerty ( Ed Harris), these men act as though they know Tom, but for some reason keep calling him Joey Cusack.  Carl has only one eye and appears to intimate that it is Tom who is responsible for it.  Could they be mistaken?  Could Tom really be this Joey from Philadelphia?

Due to the fact that this movie has a fairly straightforward plot, yes Tom is in fact this Joey from Philadelphia, but he does everything in his power to deny it to his wife, his children, the local cop and probably even to himself.  As the title suggests, Tom has a past that he has been running from his entire life but if finally caught up to him.

There is a subplot involving Tom’s son Jack and a school bully.  Far from being needlessly tacked on, these evolving scenes show Jack as a kid who is a bit of an outsider.  He’s nice and unassuming like his father, but finds himself the target of a few classmates.  Spurred on by his father’s heroic act, Jack finally stands up to these boys in a way that is frightening.

All of the events lead up to a return to home for Tom who must confront a past pushed deep down for the last 20 years.  Along the way he sees a part of himself that he shunted long ago.  Both terrified and thrilled, the repercussions of that night in the diner and the events that follow bring up many questions about the nature of violence and how we are all capable of utilizing that darker side we all have.

It must be said that director David Cronenberg’s vision of this taut, thrilling, and thought-provoking film film is pure genius.  Viewers expecting big plot twists will be disappointed because Cronenberg is interested in substance rather than flash here.

Things like the nature of violence in all of us, our use of violence to end disputes, the effect of violence thrust into a good family, and suddenly realizing your spouse, lover, husband and father may not be who you thought he was are all themes and ideas of high impact here.

There are two scenes of high contrast in the movie.  Early on we get a scene of  Tom and Edie in what appears to be a rare night alone together.  She dresses up as a cheerleader and attacks Tom.  There is a real sense of enduring love and a passion for one another that has lasted for two decades here.  Despite the sex scene, there tenderness and love.

Later as things begin to unravel, and Edie discovers a side of Tom she never knew, we get a much different sex scene.  It starts out as Edie trying to get away from Tom, but turns into a scene of hot, aggressive lovemaking on the stairs that feels animalistic.  More than any other, these two scenes illustrate the two sides of Tom.

For Edie in particular it brings up questions about how Tom has really felt these last 2o years.  Did he really love her?  Was the lie to protect you or himself?  Find out your last name is probably stolen and how that effects your identity as a wife, and simply as a person.  These are all ideas and questions brought up and then left mostly unanswered for the audience to ponder for themselves.

A History of Violence sees Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello in top form along with an excellent Ed Harris and a William Hurt in a role that gave him Oscar talk upon release of the film.  In what could have easily been a throwaway role, Ashton Holmes really shines as Jack who’s effect by the events of the film are as seismic as anything else.

Cronenberg reigns in his love of weird effects and horror style gore for a much cleaner (yet always violently powerful) vision.  The film should be shown at film schools to show lean, taut storytelling at it’s best.  There are no “padded” scenes to bloat the film.  Everything in it needs to be there.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Anyone looking for an amazingly powerful film that will stay in their memories long after viewing it should watch this movie as soon as possible.  I can’t implore enough to anyone how good it really is.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: A Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe
Ron Weasley Rupert Grint
Hermione Granger Emma Watson
Bellatrix Lestrange Helena Bonham Carter
Hagrid Robbie Coltrane
Lord Voldemort Ralph Fiennes
Dumbledore Michael Gambon
Minerva McGonagall Maggie Smith
Sirius Black Gary Oldman
Snape Alan Rickman
Remus Lupin David Thewlis

Directed by David Yates.  Running time: 131 minutes.  Rated PG-13

In my time I have seen things that were truly horrific… now, I know that you will see worse.  – Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince(2009)

It all ends.  This is the tagline for the final part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  It’s also a message that will elicit more than a few tears from a dedicated global fanbase that rivals virtually any in history.   With this end to the Harry Potter franchise, what is at stake is the punctuation at the end of it all.  Will it be a period, or an exclamation point?  I’m happy to report that it’s not only an exclamation point, but an emphatic one.

Our titular hero Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), along with friends Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson)  have done quite a bit over the over the last seven films.  They have fought dementors and arachnids, stood up to a pink dictator in Dolores Umbridge, and watched as he-who-must-not-be-named returned.  Each has had to make sacrifices.  Hermione wiped her parents memory of her to keep them safe, and Ron’s brother was mauled by a werewolf, but Harry has suffered far more.

Always at the center of the conflicts of each movie, Harry has lost family, friends and mentors along the way.   First it was his parents, then fellow student Cedric Diggory, his godfather Sirius Black,  and worst of all, Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore who’s death/murder has finally stripped Harry of the last remaining parental figure he had left.  But it only gets worse from here.

At the outset of the movie we get a heavy dose of moody silence as newly appointed Hogwarts headmaster Severus Snape watches as the new regime begins.  It’s clear that Hogwarts is not the warm, fun-filled, magical place of learning it once was.  From just a few shots we see that this place has the appearance of a prison, rather than a school, which shows just how far Lord Voldemort’s influence has spread.

Harry meanwhile, pays his last respects to Dobby before seeking a meeting with the goblin Griphook, who leverages his services in getting to Belatrix Lestrange’s vault in Gringotts in exchange for the sword of Godric Gryffindor.

The search for Voldemort’s last remaining horcruxes ( an object into which a wizard infuses a piece of their soul) which keep him tethered to life even when killed, are still at the top of Harry’s to-do list.  This vault Harry figures, holds one of the few horcruxes left.

The break-in finds Hermione transformed into Belatrix with the help of polyjuice potion.  After a tense scene getting past security, Harry and Co.  descend into the labyrinthian depths of Gringotts where they encounter a full grown dragon guarding the vault.

After getting past the dragon, they encounter a curse within the vault that multiplies every object they touch.  As you can imagine, this complicates matters greatly in attempting to find the hidden horcrux.

Getting in was tough, but getting out is worse with Griphook turning traitor and attacking with his fellow goblins along with the giant white dragon.  Taking  Hermione’s lead, the trio unshackle the dragon and ride on it’s back out of Gringotts as it feels freedom for the first time in centuries.

The only place left to find the last horcrux is Hogwarts.  After getting some unexpected help from Dumbledore’s brother, the trio face the impossible task of not only finding it, but facing the onslaught of Voldemort and his army of death eaters.

Intertwined with the search for the last remaining stationary horcrux (Voldemort’s pet snake is the last we know of) is the battle itself which is magnificently translated from page to screen.  David Yates does an excellent job at showing the brutality of war, and while I wish there were a few more on screen deaths to punch home that point, it’s done well.

Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) has been both a mystery and a thorn in Harry’s side for a long time.  In a character arc that has spanned seven books and eight movies, his motivations are finally revealed after a brutal death scene at the hands of Voldemort.

Harry uses strands of memory from Snape’s tears along with the pensieve to see who Snape really was.  It’s a masterful flashback that gives context to everything that Snape has done over the years and why.  It remains the most poignant scene in the entire movie, and possibly in the franchise as well.

Realizing his destiny, Harry walks to confront Voldemort and death, speaks with Dumbledore once again, and helps to bring Voldemort down finally in the ruins of Hogwarts.  Along the way we see once cherished characters die, while others become the heroes they were always meant to be.

The final movie in the Harry Potter series is an amazing creation.  It’s a piece of majestic cinema that hurtles with a breakneck pace from beginning to end.  Amazingly however, things don’t feel rushed.  Scenes are given time to breath, and while there were specific scenes I wished had made the cut, I cannot truly complain that the movie didn’t accomplish what it needed to.

As actors, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have grown so much in the last ten  years that they barely resemble the kids who’s acting was wooden.  There is plenty of nuance in every actor now which is good because there are many scenes that require it.

But no actor in this movie can compete with Alan Rickman.  His portrayal of Severus Snape over the years has been masterful, and yet often cut down to the bare minimum of scenes.  In this one however, he gets his due.  There is even talk of Rickman getting nominated for an oscar.  It’s just that good.

In addition to Rickman, many of the great British actors make an impact.  Ralph Fiennes does a wonderfully evil job of portraying Voldemort, but adds an added dimension of vulnerability that we don’t see in the books.

All in all, this was an amazing final movie and a great one in general.   The level of craft and care used is stunning and finished off one of the highest quality series of all-time.

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Beautiful Girls Review

They appear like fireworks in the sky, glittering brightly for a few seconds before fading away into the darkness.  Every decade is littered with those little seen gems, those movies whose quality is high but for some reason, fail to attract the necessary audience that would make it a legitimate hit.

Beautiful Girls fits this description perfectly.  It appeared quickly in theaters in 1996, was well received by critics and faded away like so many others of it’s kind.  When I was a teenager I would see the cover to this movie at my local movie rental store.  I was interested, but didn’t really take the plunge until college and realized I had missed out on a good movie for years.

Willie, a New York piano player returns to his home town of Knight’s Ridge, Mass.  He’s back for his high school reunion, and to sort out some women problems.

Back in town, Willie reconnects with his old friends – Tommy (Matt Dillon), Mo (Noah Emmerich), Paul (Michael Rapaport) and Kev (Max Perlich) while downing beers at another friends new bar.  Time it seems has not changed much in Knight’s Ridge in the last ten years or so and it shows.  Like young adults who still act like immature teens, despite being well past the age where it’s ok to do so, Willie and his friends (except Mo) all seem to be frozen by the prospect of growing up and transitioning into the next phase of their lives.  Part of this phase would be commitment in a relationship which with the exception of Mo(who married his high school sweetheart),  looks like it’s failing to gain any real traction with his friends.

Long past his days as king of the school, Tommy strings along his longtime girlfriend Sharon (Mira Sorvino)  while yearning for, and sleeping with his married high school flame Darian (Lauren Holly).  Willie meanwhile is having second thoughts about his live-in lawyer girlfriend (Annabeth Gish) and their future together.  Paul on the other hand is probably the worst off of the bunch.  He’s recently lost his girlfriend due to years of withholding any real commitment, and why?  Because Paul is obsessed with supermodels; his bedroom walls are covered in posters.  Rather than commit to the beautiful and wonderous women around them, these men constantly have one foot out the door in case “something better” comes knocking.

That is really the big message in this movie.  These men while good looking, are not male models (well, maybe Dillon could be) and yet they expect that the women in their lives should be.  They would rather hold out for that perfect woman, than realize that they have perfectly fine women already who they are lucky to have.

Two particular characters help resolve the problems affecting some of these men.  The first is 13 year old Marty (Natalie Portman) who has recently moved next door to Willie’s father and brother.  She pretty, smart, insightful and precocious and seems well on her way to attaining that “heart-breaker-in-training” status.

They meet-cute in the driveway and Willie is charmed by her intelligence and how she sees right through him.  From the start there is a connection, and it’s apparent throughout the movie that both Willie and Marty have a crush on one another.  However it’s an idealistic crush as opposed to a sexual one which is good.  The latter would obviously be in bad taste.

Willie sees her as someone who will become this lovely woman not too far into the future.  She’s full of the promise that he see’s vanishing from his own life and becomes slightly heady and intoxicated by it.

Marty however is really a symbol.  She is Willie’s last link to his youth, but also his last obstacle in moving forward with his life.  Her allure is that of someone who any man would want a few years down the road

These scenes in the movie really shine as does Natalie Portman who gives a truly stunning performance early in her career.  She’s alternately a kid, and yet Marty is also more mature than kids her age.  There is a streak of loneliness in her character that she brings out beautifully onscreen.

The other female who makes an impact is Andera (Uma Thurman).  She’s just flown in from Chicago, is in her mid-twenties, is strikingly beautiful, down to earth, and seems wise.  Though the movie never comes out and says it, in a way, she’s Marty in ten years or so.  Her job is to give these so-called-men some real advice.

Like Marty, she makes a connection with Willie.  In her last scene of the movie, they have a conversation while ice fishing that is helpful to Willie.  Then she leaves before she can make a mistake.

Willie: I look at you and I think its amazing that theres a
guy out there gets to do all kinds of things with you. He gets to
make you happy and spend evenings with you…
Andera: …make me martinis, listen to Van Morrison…
Willie: …smell your skin…
Andera: …after a day at the beach.
Willie: Yeah, and read the papers…
Andera: …on a Sunday morning…
Willie: …a rainy Sunday morning, and pepper your belly with
baby kisses… Sorry.
Andera: The thing is, theres a guy out there that thinks the same thing
about Tracy and hes jealous of you because you get to do all that with her.                  Willie: Let me ask you something; can you think of
anything better than making love to an attractive stranger… with
just an oil light to guide your way? Can you think of anything
better?
Andera: Going back to Chicago. Ice cold martini. Van Morrison.
Willie: Sunday papers. Got ya.

It’s an excellent scene and Andera imparts something that maybe Willie never thought about.  There is a guy out there who wishes he could do with Tracy, what Willie gets to do with her every day.  Translation?  Be happy you have this wonderful woman because there are plenty of takers lining up if you move aside.

One of the things facing every one of these guys is the reality of how your life has turned out as opposed to how you thought it would be.  Tommy’s best days WERE in high school.  Willie was more hopeful of his piano career back then.  Instead of successful careers, Tommy, Paul and Kev work construction in the summer and plow snow in the winter.  Far from where they thought they would be at one time.

One of the wonderful things about this movie is that not everyone has a pat and dry ending.  Some end up better at the end, while others still have the problems they had before Willie came home.  However, each character has perspective if nothing else and might just be taking the first baby steps toward actual adulthood.  Overall there is a melancholic sense of hope at the end.

The screenplay was written by Scott Rosenberg who based the town, people and events on his own real life experiences.   The locations, characters and people all feel genuine which is helped by the excellent script.

Admittedly, there isn’t much material that is covered that hasn’t been done before and maybe even better in some cases, but the great ensemble cast and script elevates the movie to a different level. Beautiful Girls is funny at times, truthful and honest at others.  It pays attention to it’s characters first and foremost.  The plot is just a way of bringing everyone together.

The acting is excellent here.  Though she has only about 15 minutes or so of actual screen time, Uma Thurman gives one of her best performances.  From Matt Dillon, to Lauren Holly, to Rosie O’Donnell and Michael  Rapaport, each actor get’s at least one scene to show what they’ve got and each brings their best work.

Ted Demme’s direction is unobtrusive.  More often than not we feel more like a voyeur.  It’s subtle work which can often be the hardest to pull off and make look good.

Overall, I consider Beautiful Girls to be one of my favorite films.  One that’s great to watch on a cool, rainy day when all you have to do is wrap a blanket around you and curl up on the couch for a few hours.

Like I said above, it’s not a film that astounds with originality, but everything is done and done well.  It’s one of those movies where the whole is better than the sum of it’s parts.

I have this weird thing where I compare movies to food.  Some movies are like a great piece of steak, or a bowl of soup, etc.

For Beautiful girls, I would have to say that it’s like a rich piece of chocolate cream pie.  It’s sweet, heavy and thoroughly enjoyable.  It may not always be the best for you, but sometimes the best comfort food isn’t.   But you know what?  I’ll take a slice of that pie anyday.

Here is a video of that scene scripted above.

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Before Sunset Review

Before Sunset (2004)

Jesse:Ethan Hawke
Celine: Julie Delpy

directed by Richard Linklater.  Running time: 80 minutes. Rated R

When Before Sunrise arrived in theatres in 1995, it was a box office bomb though admittedly since it was a very small film, I doubt it was a shock.  However, since that time home video and dvd’s would transform it into one of those movies that seemed to gain in popularity with each passing year.  It was an incandescently beautiful movie about young love and meeting someone who’s mind and soul seemingly complimented yours.  Wistful romance, idealism and optimism about both Jesse and Celine and their future dominated every frame.  Then at the end of their one night of perfection in Vienna, they parted but committed to coming back six months later.  Did that meeting happen?

It’s been nine  years and Jesse has written a book, This Time, about their one day and night together.  It’s been a minor bestseller and he’s currently in Paris on the last leg of his European book tour.  As he’s answering questions to a group of journalists in a Parisian bookstore, she appears at the fringe of the crowd.  Jesse naturally looks shocked as his memories and ours come flooding back.  They reunite awkwardly outside and immediately the question is raised about what happened on that fateful December day.  It turns out that Celine’s grandmother in Budapest, the one she had been visiting in Before Sunrise, had passed away a few days prior to their planned reunion.  Since the two did not exchange last names or even phone numbers, Celine was unable to contact Jesse.  At first he admits to not going before finally confessing that he had indeed been there.  Both laugh painfully about it before moving on and walking to a nearby coffee shop.

Jesse of course is a writer and Celine works from Green Cross, a humanitarian organization dedicated to helping those in need.  Both seem happy in their job lives.  Each occupation given to the characters seems well thought out.  Celine certainly seems like she was destined for this type of thing, while Jesse’s aspirations for writing is about as perfect as you can get to matching character with profession.

It turns out that the movie is in real time.  Unlike the 14 hours they had in Vienna, Jesse only has eighty minutes before he’s scheduled to fly back to the states again.  Given such a short amount of time, the two probe one another for what the other is feeling before retreating behind their armor.

The past ten years it turns out, have not been nearly as wonderful as these two might have once hoped and it is obvious that they have changed.   Where they once seemed naive, yet ready to take on a life full of possibilities, now it’s replaced with an ache and weariness about the compromises each has had to make in their adult lives. It’s not only the compromises, but the combination of second guessing, as well as the failures we perceive in our life’s tale and the missed opportunities we let go or are taken from us.

Their one night stand, plus their missed meeting months later has left an indelible mark on each.  Both Jesse and Celine’s lives have been marred by the luminescence of that one night together, so much so that none of their relationships since have managed to hold up to their one night.  Jesse is married with a son, while Celine is with a photographer who is often away.  Both initially claim to be happy, but before long it’s apparent to both us and to them that it’s an illusion.  Jesse married his wife because she was pregnant, while Celine claims to be in love, but professes that she cannot stand to be with him often and longs for him to be away so as to make their short times together happier.

As they walk and talk their way around Paris, their conversations revolve around politics, the nature of memory, sex, and regrets.  Nine years have given them each plenty of material on these subjects and more.  We see as they go along that the one day and night together nearly a decade ago was no fluke.  These two a simply made for one another and it goes without saying that in many ways this reunion was a test, not only to see if those feelings and attraction still exist, but as a test to see if that one night where each seemed to be the others soul mate was a temporary thing rather than something much more permanent.

The writing and screenplay for Before Sunset is amazing, both it it’s flow and it’s dialogue.  Lines are completely convincing and often delve deeper than almost any we hear at the movies.  Here is an example of that dialogue.  Jesse is talking with Celine about why he got married to his wife.  One of the reasons I picked it was not only for the dialogue, but because it’s the scene depicted on the dvd cover above.

Céline: So, (sigh) what is it like to be married? You haven’t talked much about that. (Circles back to Jesse’s left and leans on the front railing.)

Jesse: I haven’t? (Sarcastically.) How weird?! I don’t know, we met…you know when I was in college…and uh…we broke up and got back together, for a period of years, and then…um…what…we were sort of back together, and she was pregnant…so, marriage.

Céline: What is she like?

Jesse: She’s a great teacher, a good mom. Ahh, she’s smart…pretty…I remember thinking at the time, that so many of the men that I admired most, you know, that their lives were…were dedicated to something greater than themselves.

Céline: So you got married because men you admired were married?

Jesse: No, no, it…it’s more like I have this…this idea of my best self! You know? And I wanted to pursue that…even if it might have been overriding my honest self! You know what I’m saying? I mean, it’s funny like…in the moment I remember thinking that it didn’t much matter the “Who?” of it all…I mean that…that nobody is gonna be everything to you…and that ultimately it’s just a simple action of committing yourself, you know meeting your responsibilities that…that matters. I mean what is love, right, if it’s not respect, trust, admiration…and I…I felt all those things! So cut to the present tense, and I feel like I’m running a small nursery with somebody I…used to date, you know. I mean, I’m like a monk, you know. I mean, I’ve had sex less than…10 times in the last 4 years. (Céline breaks into laughter.) What? What, what? Are you laughing at me?


Dialogue such as this is a rarity in a rare movie that deigns to be better and more honest than 99.9% of the movies out there that are about relationships.  Much like the first movie, there is an absence of a heavy plot that burdens most movies of this nature.  Neither Jesse’s wife nor Celine’s boyfriend show up in the third act to cause trouble.  Also, there is no sign of a terrible secret to make either run so the other has to chase them or win them back.  In essence, the movie bears little resemblance to the run-of-the-mill crapfests we are forced to digest each year.

The acting is perfect.  So perfect in fact that it’s easy to take it for granted and why neither were nominated for an Oscar.  No over dramatic Oscar scene chewing here.  Instead we are treated to naturalistic acting that is the hardest to do.  These two are as perfect for these roles as two actors can be.

Likewise Richard Linklater’s direction is amazing in it’s simplicity.  No sweeping shots or anything that might detract from the actors.  It’s subtle directing that is difficult when you are filming scenes where your actors are speaking pages and pages of dialogue in an uncut 5 minute scene.  Despite great films and much respect in Hollywood, Linklater has never been given credit for his exceptional work throughout his career.  It’s about time he gets it.

As with the first film, this one is not for those who want a standard romantic comedy.  Those who were turned off by the first will probably be turned off here too.  But for those looking for a movie that probes deeper and unlocks truths about relationships, it’s an intoxicating experience not to be missed.  The chance to be included in the voyeuristic experience of Jesse and Celine’s lives in both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset has and will remain to be a joy.  I for one am looking forward to another amazing sequel.

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Before Sunrise Review

Before Sunrise (1995)

Jesse: Ethan Hawke
Celine: Julie Delpy

Directed By Richard Linklater. Running Time: 100 Minutes. Rated R

Say Anything, When Harry Met Sally, Casablanca and A Room With A View.  These are some of the greatest romances of all-time.  They are celebrated for many reasons.  In each case the writing and acting are exceptional, the dialogue unbelievable and the directing subtle, but perfect.   However, what really made these films and others such timeless classics is that beneath everything within these movies is a core of painfully honest truths about relationships, the nature of love and it’s complexities.

Add director Richard Linklater’s sublime 1995 romance “Before Sunrise” to this list(as well as it’s sequel Before Sunset) of what a romantic film could be if actual time were spent on an intelligent script instead of the usual cliche-ridden and cringe-worthy tripe we normally are forced to sit through.

The plot could be described as minimalist at best.  Two people meet on a train heading toward Vienna, Austria.  One is an American named Jesse(Ethan Hawke) on his way home.  His French counterpart is Celine, a student at the Sorbonne in Paris who is coming from Budapest where she was visiting her grandmother.

After a meet-cute on the train, they begin talking and as his train nears Vienna, he convinces her into getting off with him and spending the night walking and talking until he catches his flight the next day.  What ensues is essentially one endless conversation that takes place over the course of 14 hours.

These two begin what I consider to be one of the greatest romances ever put onto celluloid.  What follows their initial meeting is a one night romance that is at times more real, true and beautiful than some whole marriages.

This magical night and it’s circumstances allow the characters to reveal far more about themselves than they normally would.  Free of high expectations for themselves and obviously reveling in their connection, Jesse and Celine delve deeply and actually appear to be truly excited to hear what the other has to say.  In short, they are intoxicated by one another’s conversation.

And it’s that conversation that is possibly the greatest aspect of the movie.  Where we are lucky to get a handful of scenes in most romantic movies, that show a couple getting to know one another, Before Sunrise’s whole screen time shows this period.  Instead of a montage of scenes or conversations, we are privy to the highlights of their conversations.  It’s an aspect of a budding relationship that is often so overlooked in an most movies, because their is a formulaic plot that needs to be fulfilled and yet, we are expected to always believe the couple on screen is really in love.  That can sometimes be a tall order, but in Before Sunrise, we are convinced early and that conclusion is reinforced continually onward.

What keeps the tension high in a movie comprised of two people jumping from one conversation to another?  Like an hour glass, their sands of time are slowly, yet surely slipping away and his flight and early morning hours begin to creep near.  They grapple with and against the possibility of continuing this burgeoning relationship and with each passing hour, each knows that their magical night is one step closer to coming to and end that neither of them wants to see happen.

And boy do those hours go by fast for our couple.  At one point in the movie, both decided to make the most of this one-in-a-lifetime night and leave it at that.  No phone calls, no letters but by the platform with time waning for Celine to leave, their resolve crumbled.  They decided to meet up again 6 months later to the day and pick up where they left off.  The ending is ambiguous.  Will they keep their meeting.  Only time(and a sequel later) will tell.

One of the things we see in the film that are uncommon to most movies of the same genre, are the subleties and nuances of body language.  These all-important details are magnified in many different scenes all throughout the movie.  For instance,  there is a scene in a listening booth where Jesse and Celine glance at one another.  It lasts roughly a minute long uninterrupted and through that time we watch as both Jess and Celine glance at one another and shyly look away.  Male or female, we have all done this to a person we are attracted to, and that scene resonates each time I watch it.

Credit must go to both actors of course.  Ethan Hawke(Reality Bites) and Julie Delpy(Europa, Europa) were among the best up-and-coming actors of their generation.  Their performances are so natural, we feel more like voyeurs than people simply watching a film.  That is not an achievement to be taken lightly.  I know that Before Sunrise was a very small film, but the fact that these actors and this film did not garner more awards consideration is terrible.

In my view, Before Sunrise stands as one of the best romantic genre films ever and one of the best films of all-time in my book.  It’s a must see for even the cynical out there.

Before Sunrise is not for everyone.  It’s what is affectionately known as a talkie.  Many people can find it hard to sit through because to them, there is not real story and dialogue and other things are considered unimportant.  If you are like this, then don’t feel as though you must find this movie great or even watch it.  However, if you like nuance, and the possibility of seeing a display of love that is both affirming and convincing, then grab some popcorn, get comfy and pop this movie in.  I dont’ think you will be dissapointed.

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The Remains of The Day Review

The Remains of The Day (1993)

Stevens: Anthony Hopkins
Miss Kenton: Emma Thompson
Lord Darlington: James Fox
Mr. Lewis: Christopher Reeve
Stevens’ Father: Peter Vaughan

Directed By James Ivory. Running Time: 134 Minutes. Rated PG.

For roughly a decade from 1986 to 1995, the powerful duo of India-born producer Ismail Merchant and American director James Ivory, could do almost no wrong.   Almost all of their films in that span are varying degrees of excellence, but three in particular stand as cinematic classics.  The first was A Room With A View in 1986 which spawned the career of Helena Bonham Carter.  Howard’s End descended on moviegoers in 1992 and would become the first of several collaborations between Anthony Hopkins and his director and producer.  However, the crowning achievement of the three films would also prove to be their last truly great one in A Room With A View.

The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Mr. James Stevens, the head butler to Lord Darlington in the years leading up to the second world war.  Stevens is great at his work. He’s virtually indispensable and works tirelessly to make sure that every aspect of his lord’s mansion is under his personal care.  But every upper-class household at the time had two people; the head butler and his equal and opposite, the housekeeper.

To Stevens dismay, there has been a recent trend of housekeepers running off with other members of staff, so when Miss Sarah Kenton interviews for the job, it’s understandable that his forecast for this pretty young woman is not favorable, and it comes across in his cool nature towards her.  But his fears are unwarranted.  Although they have their fair share of squabbles(all hidden behind polite words), Miss Kenton is as good at her responsibilities as Stevens to his.

As the years go by we see their relationship begin to shift.  It’s been apparent that despite the age difference between the two, Miss Kenton is deeply attracted to the stoic and highly reserved Stevens.  For Stevens, intimacy does not come naturally.  Coming from a head butler father, it’s not surprising that Stevens is a rigid man who has devoted his life to serving others.  The sad part is that a man who spends almost all of his time in the service of others,  has little time to spend on himself, including his own happiness.

As Mr.  Stevens and Miss Kenton’s relationship faces it’s own troubles, so does the country.  Shortly into the movie, a delegation of people from other countries has convened at in Lord Darlington’s estate to consider Germany.  Hitler’s rise to power has just started, although war has not truly begun.  Lord Darlington is a Germany sympathizer who felt the treaty of Versailles was too harsh.  A lone American congressman who sees far man than these amateurs who have stuck their noses in a political realm they do not belong, fails to win them over and must watch over time as these men are proven wrong.

As this political disaster unfolds, another parallels it in the form of Miss Kenton leaving to marry a man as she fears that she will never break through Steven’s shell.  The scenes near the end of her stay are heartbreaking.   We see that Stevens feels.  His answers become more clipped, and his manner agitated.  Early on in the movie, he mentions that he doesn’t know what he would do without her.  In the scope of the whole movie, and in the presence of another man, it proves to be the most open and emotional Stevens would become at any real point in admitting his feelings.

Intercut with the past is the future.  We see the Darlington estate now owned by the American congressman who so valiantly tried to head off what he knew to be a mistake taking place.  The man is Mr. Lewis played by Christopher Reeve in a minor, but pivotal performance.  As always, Stevens now serves his new master just as well as his former who has since died.

He recieves a letter from Mrs. Kenton who has contacted him after many years to admit that her  marriage has failed.  Seeing a chance to right a wrong that never should have been, Steven takes what is probably his only week off in decades to drive across the country and speak his feelings as well as trying to get Mrs. Kenton to return to her old post again.

As with movies of this nature, there is no happy ending.  Mrs Kenton’s daughter is with child and she has just learned.  It forces her to choose to stay to be close to her daugher, and sadly her husband.  Through it all, we can see that Stevens is distraught.  His chance is gone now, and yet he still cannot truly express his feelings even now when an admission about his great love for her may have been all that was needed to sway her.

So Mrs Kenton leaves Mr. Stevens with tears streaming down her face as he glides away on a bus back home knowing she will never see him again.  All Stevens can do is raise his hat and say farewell.

In many ways, The Remains of The Day are a warning to those who devote their whole life and being to a career and little to their own happiness.  Stevens has essentially thrown away his life in the name of duty, and it’s a decision that you start to see is quietly beginning to haunt him.  The Remains of The Day is a subtle, thoughtful and deeply moving film.  It accomplishes more in a stare than most movies do in a speech.

The performances are about as perfect as they can ever be.  Hopkins gives his most subtle performance, and one of the best performances of the decade.  Emma Thompson who was just really beginning to reach the apex of her career, is his equal in every way.  She brings a strong, yet vulnerable quality to Miss Kenton that in a lesser actress, may have gone unseen.

Some films are hard to digest and The Remains of The Day is one of them.  It’s a slow burner.  Events happen in the backround of these two dancing around one another, and some viewers may be left asking “Is that it” once the credits roll.  To them I say, look closer.  Like the performances, it is subtle and sometimes the impact is greater than a movie overt to it’s views and goals.

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