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Half Girlfriend (2017)
"Half" Turned Out To Be "Whole"
Here's another movie where ½ the viewers love it and ½ hate it. Both groups accurately describe how they felt about the movie. So I'll try to help the reader determine which ½ they should be guided by. Those who hated it seemed to have been expecting a fast moving and very different type of movie and, hence, they were disappointed when their expectations were not met and they vented their frustration in their review.
I thought the movie was quite good, albeit not one of the best of all time. I'll address two of the most common complaints from the haters. First, they call it "slow". It indeed is NOT a fast paced action thriller. However, for me, it didn't drag, it was just a normal pace and moved right along such as for "a slice of life" type film. Also, it was NOT an "all talk" movie by any means.
Second, they thought the story line was a cliché. Yes, it is a romantic movie about a poor boy who falls for a rich girl - sometimes it's a poor girl who falls for a rich boy - and about the troubles associated with coming from two different classes and especially the problem that the poor one has fitting in with the rich set. This indeed is a very common theme.
However, I do strongly disagree with some other criticisms. I think that because the haters found themselves watching the wrong movie genre, they took out their frustrations by criticizing everything including both leads and the director. I have no acting talent, but based on decades of experience, my impression of acting talent has in the past always been on target even when viewing movies from the 1930s & 40s. For those movies, I had not had expectations or knowledge of their reputation, with a few exceptions, but my impression always matched the critics even for the most unexpected. Later, in the mid-60s, I saw Sophia Loren's first performance when she was very young in "Two Women" and came out raving about her star power. Similarly, after I saw Natalie Portman in "Beautiful Girls" (she had a relatively minor role and was just 14 when filming), I raved to my stage actor son that I just seen a girl who was destined to be one of the top actresses of her generation. To date, I've had no missteps.
Anyway, I thought Arjun Kapoor was extremely expressive and exactly what the role called for and he really carried the movie. There are many styles of acting. If one chooses the "expressive" style, one can be accused of overacting or being hammy, but if one does it right, like Arjun did, it can be the most effective style for having IMPACT and conveying strong emotions - Arjun's choice and execution reminded me of others whose expressive style won them Oscars! In contrast, Shraddha Kapoor was more restrained as she played a woman with a mystery which the story required be kept mostly under wraps - again, her performance was right on target with the storyline. Finally, I was most impressed by the director, especially for the last half of the movie where his innovative handling of some innovative aspects of this tried and true storyline echoed the creative genius of D. W. Griffith. The movie was not fast paced, but it had depth. Also, I see that of the "1/2 that loved it", most echoed my sentiments although they were less verbose.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Below awful, crude and disgusting
The only people or rather adolescents who will like this movie are those who would read the title of this review and think, "Sounds good, I'll watch it". I read the reviews where the reviewers gave the lowest rating possible and over and over again, I'd strongly agree with all their comments. The writing is shallow and atrocious - no talent whatsoever - as one reviewer put it "it seems like it was written by a 13 year old boy". There was no humor unless one laughs hysterically at the mention or sight of a bodily function with no other wit/intelligence. The two male leads were dreadful!!! The two female leads were very attractive which should count for something, but there were so many strong negatives that the movie deserves a subzero rating. The one good mini scene was a short monologue by Kristen Bell when she says "I tried ...", but that dialogue effectively destroys the so called plot. I read a synopsis of the movie, it seemed like the basic idea had great potential for comedy and/or romance, however, the disgusting script made for a disgusting movie.
The Toy Wife (1938)
Extraordinary performance by Luise Rainer!
The reviews should help potential viewers decide whether or not they will like a movie. I thought there were certain aspects of this movie that were exceptionally good so I was surprised to see a below average rating. When this occurs, I often see a sharp disparity in the reviews where one group loves it and another group thinks it a flop. Both are valid subjective comments. Readers should read a couple of reviews from each of the two groups and see which group they identify with and view or not accordingly. I belong to the former group. I was blown away by the fantastic performance of Luise Rainer, arguably the best actress of her era - it was exactly the characterization the original play and movie called for. In contrast, when the movie came out, critics did not like it and it didn't do well at the box office (suffering a small financial loss). Critics called it too melodramatic, but melodramas have always been one of the major genres of movies - especially in the '30s and still survive today. Critics called Luise's performance "too feminine" (NY Times) and too animated. Those criticisms are a bit like calling a Boris Karloff horror film "too scary" - if you don't like horror (or melodrama), then don't watch horror (or melodrama). The movie and story line are NOT on the same level as, say, Gone With The Wind, but it's a good B level melodrama with all supporting actors and others doing A level jobs albeit on a modest budget. Individual reviewers thought Luise's style was too animated, but that's what the role calls for and her Oscar winning performance in The Good Earth had was no animation as that's what that role required. Others thought Luise's acting style was too different than the other actors. However, the others were playing "normal" people whereas Luise was portraying a character that was qualitatively different and doing it perfectly. The key theme is the Melvyn Douglas character (solid, all business, male) falling in love with Luise's (animated, happy-alive, ultra female) character. I've seen Luise's character in real life - rare, but still seen again and again - and those who are like Melvyn's character are very strongly attracted to her as they seem to sense that she will add another dimension, or two, to their life. Melvyn's character falls for Luise's character because of who she is - her personality. But then, to be brief and not give too much away, Melvyn's character begins to become disenchanted and critical as she's not more like him. This is a deep theme for a melodrama. Being fiction, there are many possible endings and many may have been disappointed (and lowered their rating) by the chosen ending not matching their preferred ending - I preferred a different ending, but my subjective choice is NOT inherently better than the chosen ending. And as I reflect on the movie, I'm free to change the ending to fit my taste.
The Thirteenth Chair (1929)
Reconciling good & bad reviews
Looking at the reviews, I saw that there was a group that loved the film and a group that hated it. When I see this kind of sharp dichotomy, I like to comment. I first saw the overall rating as 5.1, which seemed unfairly low. I liked the film because it was very superior writing and I was wowed by the performances of Margaret Wycherly and Bela Lugosi. The film was taken from a play with the dialog mostly intact. The writing for the play, as well as the play itself, was a critical and popular success - as was the film. Margaret Wycherly was a well-known and highly respected British actress who also appeared in the play.
All reviews are valid if they honestly and clearly describe the reviewer's reactions. I don't like murder mysteries, but I took a chance on this one because I liked the story outline and I was pleasantly surprised. I happen to hate horror pictures so I was not a fan of Bela Lugosi, but he was great in this non-horror role.
One negative review called it too "stagey" and indeed that's a valid observation as it was a stage play adapted to film. I have seen stage plays that were filmed as they were played on stage, but the filmed version never seemed right - however, this stage script was very well adapted to film - also keeping the high quality script intact. Perhaps, the most telling negative comment was that the film was "dull". And indeed if one really likes standard murder mystery films with lots of physical action (or if one is just in the mood for such), one might find the film "dull". The reader of reviews needs to find which reviews reflect his/her tastes and criteria and go with that review.
My Life with Caroline (1941)
Get in the spirit and enjoy!
I thought that the posted average rating was somewhat low for this film so I reviewed the reviews. This is one of those films where many love it and many pan it. Anna Lee is great in her admittedly light role yet she's picked on presumably because one has not liked the film and Anna was not a well known star like Colman - she was well cast and did the role as it should be played. Almost all reviewers acknowledged that Colman was great. One critic complained that he could not see Colman's character falling in love with Lee's character - fair enough observation but irrelevant for a comedy - think of George Burns and Gracie (airhead) Allen - those inconsistencies are the comic devices that almost all comedies rely on. I thought it was very amusing except for the ending. For some reason, the writers thought they had to end with a plot twist that added no comedy whatsoever (any laugh after the twist was independent of the twist) and quite confusing. Perhaps the unfortunate choice of twist for the last few minutes of the film threw others off as well and one's impression of a film is often disproportionately affected by the ending. It was an entertaining 1930s-1940s-ish comedic farce, but if you don't like that style, you may not like it.
Don Jon (2013)
Problematic – 3 Types of Reviews
I put the reviews of Don Jon into 3 categories which, paraphrased are 1) "The film is shallow and sleazy and I hate it"; 2) "The film is shallow and sleazy and that's great because it's telling it like it is – it's an accurate "slice of life" story and I love it"; 3) "The first 95% of the film is shallow and sleazy, but at the very end, it rejects the sleaze for something better and I like it."
#3 is what Gordon-Levitt (writer & director) was aiming for. However, that approach has been the standard out of Hollywood for decades and it fails. For the reviewers in categories in 1 & 3 above, they already recognize the shallowness and sleaze of that lifestyle. For reviewers in 2 above, by far the largest group, they view the 95% about shallowness and sleaze and that just reinforces their view that that's the way life is.
What's needed is a romance movie that has heart and soul and beauty throughout – before the 1960s that was common especially in the '30s & '40s. But beginning in the '60s a downward spiral for "romance" movies started with each year being worse – each year the difference between Hollywood romance and porn shrunk with many describing most such fare as soft porn and many producers admitting they were aiming to produce soft porn as the best way to make money. Maybe that's why LaLaLand, which was a throwback to an earlier era, was so well received, but even it seemed like a pale shadow of Demy's films which in turn were a pale shadow of the romance films (and life) of the '30s & '40s.
Gordon-Levitt is a very good actor. Regarding technique, he can write and is a good director. However, he doesn't seem to have anything to write about. Maybe shallowness and sleaze is all he's experienced, first or even second hand. His efforts have no heart or soul or depth. Modern action adventure movies are well done, but modern movies about the relationship between a man and a woman too often are just soft porn.
The formula was wrong but to make it work, the audience should at the very least have been rooting for Jon to go with Esther (Julianne Moore) because of her inner beauty and heart, etc. – I knew in advance that's how it should go, but felt nothing except that she was annoying – not Julianne's fault – it was 100% the fault of the empty script. Jon only rises a few levels, out of about 50, from the shallowness and sleaze at the end as that's as high as Gordon-Levitt's vision can see. I don't think the new movie writer generation is capable of improving so the only solution seems to be to watch films from a different era.
La La Land (2016)
If You Liked LaLa Land, You'll LOVE The Musicals of Yesteryear
I liked this film. I'd like Hollywood to try to do more in this vein. It compares well to many recent films of this genre. However, it really pales in comparison to the musicals of the 1930s, '40s, '50s and even later decades. If you like this film, you should really LOVE Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (Top Hat, The Gay Divorcée, Roberta, Follow the Fleet, Swing Time, Shall We Dance, Carefree), Gene Kelly (Singing in the Rain - plus you get Donald O'Conner and Debbie Reynolds), Judy Garland (Easter Parade, For Me and My Gal, Summer Stock), Eleanor Powell (Born to Dance, Broadway Melody of 1938, Broadway Melody of 1940), Howard Keel (Show Boat, Kiss Me Kate, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Kismet), Kathryn Grayson, Gordon MacRae & Shirley Jones (Oklahoma, Carousel) and many, many others.
Natalie Gives One of the Best Performances of All Time
This is not a great adventure film or great romance, etc. so some of the reviews have found it boring. However, for myself, who has watched thousands of films spanning the whole history of cinema, Portman's performance is the best and most powerful I have ever seen. The rest of this review references the content of the movie, but is NOT a "spoiler" as the more you know about this famous, historic sequence, the more the film will be enhanced – especially Portman's performance.
Jackie was brought up in a wealthy East Coast family and was sheltered from harshness for much of her early life, was very refined, stylish, charming and intelligent – she married into an even wealthier East Coast family. Then as she sat beside her husband in an open car driving through Dallas Texas, a bullet blasted off part of her husband's skull soaking her in blood as her husband lay dying in her lap.
This is dramatic and traumatic enough, but there were many more layers of emotional complexity. Her husband, JFK, was the President of the United States of America. The event was being televised and watched by millions and would be front page news and on TV being watched by 100 million people - mesmerized by and in shock over the assassination of the President. This was also a profound moment in history. I was in my junior year of college at JFK's alma mater and I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news as does most of that generation.
In addition, JFK was the father of her two very young children and he was now gone and they were now fatherless (She had lost two prior children, one to miscarriage and one was stillborn). Jackie's life was completely changed and destroyed in an instant. She and Jack had great dreams about what they could accomplish in office – that also was now gone. She had to plan the funeral of the assassinated President and do it in the context of history and have it be the right legacy for him (and for her). She had to stand and witness LBJ, the consummate Texan, be sworn in as the new president. JFK and LBJ had been bitter opponents during the primaries and they were completely different, but these strong feelings, including LBJ's resentment of Bobby, had to be repressed.
Scene after scene entailed in this incredible period of trauma had many layers of evolving and, different for every scene, strong emotional complexity. The whole Jackie experience is told by Portman's face, her tone, her carriage, etc. and is on target and powerful and amazing. But it helps to know the history.
We tend to forget that Jackie was inherently very shy and reserved. However, it was discovered that when she was on the campaign trail, the crowds would swell so she became a fixture on the campaign and was loved and besieged by the media and more in the media focus, viewed by millions, than any other celebrity except JFK himself - just another layer to be added to Jackie's portrayal. It was her style and charm that inspired the specific, iconic image of Camelot.
She was being forced, by law, to pack up her and her children's things and vacate her home (the White House) to make way for LBJ and Lady Bird. In a way, she had made it her own home as she had orchestrated an extensive renovation of the White House to fully reflect its rich history – her being "pushed out" was just another layer of loss and abandonment.
I have seen virtually every Best Actor and Best Actress performance except, ironically, Portman's role in Black Swan. Portman was the center of every scene for 90% of Jackie, much of that was done in close-up or semi close-up and virtually every scene was uniquely demanding and very challenging. In a normal script, it's usually clear that an actor has to portray some specific emotion or even a conflict of emotions and a skilled actor is needed to pull this off. However, this was a real life script with unprecedented complexity and special challenges as described above. I was mesmerized by and riveted to watching Jackie - not even aware it was a great performance until the film ended. I gave the film less than 10 because it was not an epic like Dr. Zhivago, but I would tend to give Portman's performance more than 10.
Great, under rated, movie
I thought it was a great film, surprised by its relatively low rating and encouraged by so many very enthusiastic reviews. One seems to either really like it or is quite turned off by it. If you like Bollywood films, you may well really like it or at least really like most of it. If you don't like Bollywood, you probably won't like it. If you don't know Bollywood at all, but like the musicals of Hollywood's (and MGM's) Golden Era, then your reaction will be like those who like Bollywood. It's a musical – it has lots of songs and dances. If you're a big Salman Khan fan, be aware that he's only on screen for a short time.
Ranbir Kapoor won Best Male Debut at the Filmfare Awards and "Stardust Superstar of Tomorrow – Male". Similarly, Ranbir's distant (4th) cousin, Sonam Kapoor, won "Stardust Superstar of Tomorrow - Female" and was nominated for Best Female Debut at the Filmfare Awards. Rani Mukherji, per usual, gave a strong supporting performance as Gulabji the prostitute. The acting is strong.
As an aside, Sonam Kapoor wanted to be a writer but had no aspirations to be an actress – possibly because she had a weight problem (180 pounds) and bad skin and health problems due to diabetes. An actress friend who knew she wanted to write, suggested she take a job as a stage hand on director Sanjay Leela Bhansali's movie "Black". She did. Bhansali told her if she lost weight, he'd consider her for the lead in Saawariya. So for 2 years she ate healthy, lost 75 lbs and studied acting non-stop and, good to his word, Bhansali hired her and, out of the depths, she became one of the biggest stars of Bollywood. Her real life story is so fitting for this movie.
The opening scenes have a lot of heart. The rest of the movie has a lot of heart but is often misunderstood. The story-line message is that you need to fight unhappiness as pantomimed by Raj's shadow boxing. The writing is unusually well crafted with every line woven to support the message.
Why then did it get a somewhat low rating? First, it's Bollywood, but it's also a very ORIGINAL film - people keep asking for originality, but when they get it, they seem to be thrown by it. Next, I'll address the 2nd reason, but you should only read it AFTER you see the movie as the following CONTAINS A SPOILER. Since Raj is the main character and an appealing character who clearly expresses his love for Sakina, the audience is hoping he'll get the girl so even though they've liked 98% of the movie, they're disappointed/crushed by the ending. Many of the reviewers with low ratings even explicitly confirm that. But the point is that Raj will keep on fighting unhappiness and win no matter what – it's a surprising but very upbeat message. Surprisingly, even most of the critics don't get it, just the best ones get it.
Penrod and Sam (1923)
As a child, I found two of Booth Tarkington's books, "Penrod" and its sequel "Penrod and Sam", to be the funniest I had read. Those two eleven year old boys and their dog, around 1900 AD, were getting into the most hilarious of mischievous scrapes. UNFORTUNATELY, the writers for this film focused primarily on those episodes where Penrod and Sam were getting their revenge on Georgie Bassett, a "goodie-goodie", so it treats the bullying of Georgie as funny and as a positive. "Bullying" is in the spotlight today with a special focus on how destructive it can be - even leading to suicide by the victims - those episodes, which composed the bulk of the film,did not seem very funny. I found it most disappointing. To be fair, the child actors were great and the director got the right flavor for the non-bullying incidents so had the movie been primarily on those types of scrapes, I would have rated this movie at the top of the scale rather than at the bottom.
Ruby Sparks (2012)
Original, Interesting, Romantic
The storyline is original and very well written. I thought it was great. It's not about superheroes or an action movie or a thriller or a blockbuster. So who would enjoy it? Geeks, smart people, romantics, sci- fi lovers ... Regarding the latter, I'm sure the writer was not thinking in terms of sci fi, but it meets my #1 criterion for great sci fi, namely, it changes one aspect of ordinary reality, preferably the here and now and not the distant future, and through that change gives insight into that ordinary reality that we live in. Despite its' being about impossible fiction, it seemed more real than most movies. A lot of the best writing has a writer as the main character - so maybe it's true that one should write about what one knows best. Of course, it's about romance and objectification as well and that's well done as well.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Recommended - Original
This was an original, very creative script. Yes, it is based on the most common of all Hollywood themes that one should not sleepwalk through life with a mind numbing job, etc. with Hollywood's required antidote being passion which is usually given as quick sex rather than a rich romance. However, the novel approach was fresh and thoroughly engaging. If you're a "film-aholic" like me and seen thousands of films, this is a major blessing. It was a somewhat complex concept yet there seemed to be no loose ends or inconsistencies. It was all the better with strong performances by all. Will Ferrel is great and funny, but don't expect a typical Will Ferrell movie with lots of slapstick and physical comedy - through most of the movie Will is actually at the other end of the spectrum playing a "sleepwalking" IRS agent. Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman both gave fantastic performances which added to the enjoyment. Queen Latifah and Maggie Gyllenhaal also gave strong performances.
For the part, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt gave a GREAT performance. In addition, Natalie Portman was very good. The writing was dreadful just gross and vulgar without any redeeming value. I thought maybe at the end there was going to be some insight into what the writer was trying to say but failed at, but there was nothing there. I think it was written for the frat boy who had marinated his brains in alcohol and has a mental age of 13 and when he sees disgusting or anti-social stuff on screen thinks it cool and that appears to be a pretty large demographic. It was reminiscent of "What's Your Number?" in pathetic writing.
What's Your Number? (2011)
I was going to say it deserves zero stars, but the acting was fine and so was the cinematography and sound. But the writing was dreadful. I thought the storyline might lead to something interesting, but it appears to have been inspired by a Cosmopolitan article - nothing shallower or sleazier than that as a starter and then it went downhill from there. Usually, I'd just stop watching when it's this bad, but I wanted to see how low it would go - it hit rock bottom. I love romantic comedies, but there was nothing romantic about it and there was only one laugh. I've liked Anna Faris' previous outings, but what's to like about a sleazy, shallow character. If the writer had any talent, they'd be unable to produce such trash. I see it's a woman writer. Was this an attempt to prove that a woman can write as shallow, sleazy and disgusting stuff as a man!?! Didn't Anna Faris, or for that matter Blythe Danner, read the script before signing on board? I don't think I'll be able to enjoy future Anna Faris viewings. In a romantic comedy, the audience should root for the couple to get together, but both were so shallow and sleazy and empty, who cared? I guess it's not surprising that a lot of people liked it as it was written for the lowest common denominator, however, it is horrifying.
The Words (2012)
Great potential, weak delivery
Great concept and basic storyline. It starts well. Bradley Cooper's character, an aspiring and struggling young writer, is well developed including his relationships with his wife, father and editor/boss. So one knows how he'll think and feel when he finds a lost, great book manuscript and publishes it as his own. A predictable but 100% on target setup for the real meat of the story. Except one wonders, "What's with that scene with Dennis Quaid reading a book to a large audience?" Then Cooper, fake author, meets Jeremy Irons, real author - what we came to see is now beginning. The first part of the meeting is really well done. Then, Irons starts telling an enthralled Cooper the story that's in the book which Cooper already knows intimately and which Irons knows he already knows. The place for that flashback story is when Cooper is boringly copying the book into his computer - but that's minor. The meat of the story, Cooper's moral and emotional dilemma begins to unfold (By the way, why no scenes between Cooper and father on his way up and in crisis?) But then the Irons story line fades out. Thud! The film's author, knowing that, adds a 3rd level and it seems that all that went before was Quaid's autobiographical book story. However, just as Olivia Wilde's character wanted to know "What happened next?" after fake author was forced to come to grips with his moral dilemma so did I as that would have been the meat of the story!!! The film just seems to drop the ball. Adding the 3rd level doesn't work - it's confusing, unreal, superfluous and unsatisfying as it really goes nowhere!!! Where's the beef? It's missing! The disappointment was enhanced by the potential and the great setup, but there's no heart of the story. Early on,Cooper is told that his first attempts for novels are well written but are not from the heart, they're too artsy. The film's author should have listened to that advice.
No Looking Back (1998)
Great, but a gamble
As a movie enthusiast for several decades, I've seen thousands of movies. I thought this was one of the very, very best. It's the first time I've given an IMDb rating of 10. The writing was great and the 3 principals gave very strong performances. In fact, I started to search to see if Lauren Holly was at least given a 1998 Best Actress nomination. However, I stumbled across the movie's having been pulled from distribution before 250,000 had seen it. So the selection committee would have never have even considered it. What a shame – I was stunned! I went here to IMDb to see what was the disconnect between my experience and most everyone else's. I saw that 1,378 reviewers gave an average 5.7 (out of 10) rating. The last time I really liked a movie the average was 8.5. I looked at the written reviews and saw a lot of people who really liked it. One suggested that if one was looking for a blockbuster or escapist fare one wouldn't like it. Maybe the writing was too good, too true to life? However, several Burns' slice of life films had been blockbuster hits so that couldn't be the whole story. Maybe, people got so into the film that out of the 3 plausible endings 2 out of 3 were deeply disappointed by the 1 selected. However, I contend, the 95% of the movie that went before the ending had the value of showing people struggling with difficult emotional decisions that were somewhat beyond their control as they were intertwined with other humans struggling with their own difficult emotional decisions – so the audience could just select whatever virtual ending one wanted and be moved by the heart of the movie. There's no objective right choice, just choose what's right for you and realize there's no guarantees in life. So my first few sentences notwithstanding, don't go in with high expectations – the statistics seem to be against it. If you only see a few films, then go with the super popular films. However, if you've "seen them all" and are casting about for something above mediocrity and you like slice of life, it's worth the gamble. I read the negatives and disagreed and they gave no insight into objective flaws – they just describe why they personally didn't like seeing that particular slice of life, etc. It's a GREAT film, but you might just not like it.