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Alex & Emma (2003)
When Robbie Met Failure
A good movie is a magical thing. When watching a well-constructed film, an audience should be enveloped by it. Yes, suspense should be felt and happiness shared, but more than that; the person watching should feel as if he or she is a part of the film. The movie, in fact, should no longer appear as a movie at all, but an adventure experienced amid an otherwise banal existence. I recall the stories of most movies not as such, but as memories as clear as my first kiss. To this day I still remember the first tooth I lost, the first man-eating shark I blew up, and the multiple love affairs I've had with Ingrid Bergman. And, yes Mr. Reiner, I recall meeting, on several occasions, Sally, rescuing a certain princess bride, and the brief period I spent as the drummer for Spinal Tap.
`Alex & Emma', however, which I saw only a few hours ago, is already less than a fleeting hint of boredom in my mind. I was not enveloped. Through a coincidence quite unfortunate to all involved, including myself, badly directed weak performances of a poor script were edited faultily. In other words, there was very little to like about this movie. True, this was all said weeks ago by highly respected film-critics, but I too thought to myself, `but how could I pass up Rob Reiner's new romantic comedy?' After all, he did bring us `When Harry Met Sally'. Ah, but such thinking was my downfall and I beg you to prevent it from being yours; had Mr. Rob not included himself in the movie, I would have assumed he had died and the studio had had someone else direct this insult to my eyes. Perhaps Raja Gosnell. A very drunk Raja Gosnell. A very drunk Raja Gosnell attempting to ruin his career. In fact, no, `Never Been Kissed,' Mr. Gosnell's first romantic comedy and second film was ten times the film this was.
In conclusion, don't see `Alex & Emma.' If not to save yourself the time and money, and avoid what would undoubtedly be an unsuccessful date, shun this film in an attempt to, in your own mind, cherish the concept of love as something ever-so romantic and always free from cliché and relish the image of Rob Reiner as a director who could do no wrong. Because believe me, he can.
Mr. Jealousy (1997)
Note as bad as the title denotes
Aside from a thoroughly misrepresentative title, "Mr. Jealousy" is actually quite entertaining. With good acting, a good story, and the brand of direction one only gets from the writer, the film is a genuinely charming romantic comedy. The humor is subtle and the dialogue poetic, but if you like that kind of thing (think "Royal Tenenbaums" meets "Kissing Jessica Stein," with most emphasis on the Stein) you should rent it. It's esoteric, but if you get it you'll like it.
The House of Mirth (2000)
The Dearth of Mirth
Before the adaptation of a novel into a motion picture, many aspects of that story must be considered. Though many great books have been written, most will forever remain on the shelf and off the screen. `Siddhartha: The Movie,' for instance, will never come into being.
The cost of bringing a particular piece of fiction to life is one such consideration. The amount of dialogue and narration also influence a novel's adaptability. And, of course, the story's public appeal comes under consideration. If such guidelines are heeded to strictly, the success of the film lies only in the hands of its director. If not, movies such as the adaptation of Louis de Bernieres' Corelli's Mandolin come about, in which seventy pages and a few main characters are entirely absent. It goes without saying that `Captain Corelli's Mandolin' failed as film. `The House of Mirth' should not have.
Edith Wharton's 1905 The House of Mirth has all the makings of a good screenplay. It is a period piece, and one with a limited number of settings, all of which are described in full detail; it is rich with fast-paced, well-written, subtly emotional dialogue and a limited-omniscient narrator who sees things almost always in chronological order (with a few carefully-placed flashbacks here and there); it is also a piece filled with entertaining dynamic characters and powerful, yet relevant, central themes and conflicts. A trailer for the film could refer to the story as either `a forbidden romance' or `a young woman's emotional journey.' And yet, supported by a barrage of marketable possibilities, Terence Davies' 2000 film, `The House of Mirth,' proves to be little more than two hours and twenty minutes of heavily concentrated tedium. It is, beyond a doubt, far more painful to watch than a balding Nicolas Cage attempting to play a mandolin.
The film opens, closes, and does most everything in between, as the novel does. The problem arises, however, in that apart from plot the movie is entirely independent of Wharton's creation. The effort which the writer put into the formation of characters, tone and theme seem to have been thoroughly ignored by those responsible for `Mirth.' This is not an uncommon occurrence, sacrificing character development and even characters in order to fit in the maximum amount of plot. Even established director Chris Columbus did it in his first `Harry Potter' film, so afraid that audiences would react badly to the absence of a scene that the movie was wildly from setting to setting, sprinkling meaningless dialogue and special effects where needed. `Mirth,' in this sense, is quite similar to `Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,' though without giant trolls and magical fight sequences. And so, without computer-created marvels to add necessary flare to the film, `The House of Mirth' is simply an empty shell and a poor excuse for a movie.
The film follows Miss Lily Bart, played monotonously by Gillian Anderson, through her fall from artistocratic prosperity to impoverished disparity. This transition, however, is all but suppressed by Mr. Davies' apparent ineptitude in subtlety. Lily, as Wharton portrays her, is a beautiful, intelligent, money-hungry `girl,' capable, through an almost superhuman ability to manipulate men, to get whatever she desires from the opposite sex. Attesting to Wharton's skill, Lily's character is a complex one, and at her deepest layer lies the insecurity one would expect from any other unmarried twenty-nine year-old with no parents and large debts. Mr. Davies, astoundingly, picks up on this hidden side of Lily and decides to make it a bit less hidden. The result is the teary-eyed, heavily breathing Lily, which Anderson, armed with her trademark grimace, accurately portrays throughout the film. This butchering of Bart, while perhaps somewhat helpful to the moviegoer incapable of making personal conclusions, leaves very little room for the change of self that the character must later undergo.
This transformation comes as a result of a change in social and economic status, brought on by antagonists Bertha Dorset and Gus Trenor, plays, respectively, by Laura Linney and Dan Akroyd. In an effort to bring realism into the film, Davies avoided relying on social stereotypes to create his characters. This, however, was an unfortunate decision since Wharton relied heavily on the method, exaggerating her characters in an almost Dickinsian manner. The result is a collection of bland, unremarkable characters with the capability to speak only in soft, stilted tones, among which lie the Lily's two adversaries. Bertha, a cruel, catty adulteress, only appears uncomfortable, not condescending, during her scattered appearances, and is made remarkably likeable by Ms. Linney, who is clearly out of her element. Akroyd, on the other hand, fails to even create a character of Gus with line delivery reminiscent of a high school staging of Shakespeare. Mr. Akroyd does not do the character, who Wharton portrays as a kind of contemporary Jabba the Hut, justice, having apparently lost the will to play an unflattering character somewhere between `Blues Brothers 2000' and Brittany Spears' `Crossroads.' Like so many of his fellow SNL cast members, Mr. Akroyd should stay with comedy, or at least at home.
Amid this downward spiral of Lily's life and Akroyd's career lies one of the most finely crafted romances contained in Wharton's writings. It is between Miss Bart and Laurence Seldon (Eric Stoltz) and is filled with passion, pain and social commentary. It is, in fact, the central story of the piece, beginning in the first chapter and enduring through the changing settings. It is odd, therefore, that Davies chose to downplay it as much as he did. He seemingly brings it up only often enough to keep it in the audience's consciousness, so that he may call upon it again to improve the denouement. Any passion which Wharton envisioned between the two characters is absent completely. Instead, the relationship becomes the meaningless chatter and sudden kisses of an uncomfortable Anderson and overacting Stoltz. Seldon, as the actor apparently understood him, is devoid of the charm and insight Wharton awarded him, and is instead a slick haired man with a top hat that speaks too softly and with the vocal inflection of Adam West. Holy bad actor, Batman; Stoltz showed more emotion as pot-smoking `Bud' in `Fast Times at Ridgemont High' than as the unbearably gentile Laurence Seldon.
Anthony LaPaglia, as the foul-turned-friendly Mr. Rosedale, shines as the one and only actor who apparently understood the lines he had to deliver. He shows both greed and compassion beautifully and asserts himself as a strong, versatile actor, despite Davies attempts to reduce his character. However, not even a game of Quidditch could save this movie and, sadly, his energy and depth are forgotten as soon as he leaves a scene.
Throughout the film, relationships, events, and even characters are casually mentioned having never been prior introduced. This is characteristic, however, of a short adaptation of a long book. It is inexcusable, however, in an almost two-and-a-half hour movie, where time constraints arise only as the result of poor direction and scarce editing. The deaths of Lily's parents, and with them a much needed explanation of Lily's mindset, could have easily replaced on of the two minute long scenery shots. At one point, the audience is entreated to the result of a camera's tour of an empty house, with Mozart playing in the background. Slow pans and slower fades also lead to the slow tone of the film, along with Davies' decision to replace Whitman's clever, fast pace dialogue with scenes comprised entirely of Ms. Anderson's far-off glances and heavy breathing. The resulting tone contrasts dramatically with the rapidity of most period pieces about high society, such as that which worked so well for Robert Altman's `Gosford Park.'
It is a sad fact that the last half-hour of film, when Anderson's acting and such tone and timing are appropriate to Lily's situation, has the semblance of a good film. It is too little too late and only makes clear what the film could have been the whole time and yet clearly wasn't. By the end of the film, I was left tired and depressed, though this was entirely independent of the film, or Lily's, ending. `The House of Mirth,' was, in all truthfulness, the most boring and painful movie I have ever seen.
Most films have something, not matter how insignificant, to offer their viewers. In `Deep Blue Sea,' for example, a movie about a sea lab of good looking people being attacked by giant super-intelligent sharks, Samuel L. Jackson gets eaten. Unfortunately, `Mirth' is without offerings, and neither Akroyd or Anderson are devoured by fish.
At the end of `The House of Mirth,' Terrence Davies credits himself as having `written and directed' the picture. This byline tells it all. `The House of Mirth' is not based on an Edith Wharton novel. It is a weak and heartless attempt at a movie and was most likely adapted from Sparknotes.com rather than the original source. If an adaptation is a reflection of how one person understood a novel, then it is clear the Terrence Davies did not understand The House of Mirth. Read the book.
`The House of Mirth' is rated PG (Parental guidance is suggested for young children) for its lack of adult concepts, such as sex, violence, and character development.
Mr. Deeds (2002)
Not typical Sandler
Coming from someone who greatly enjoyed Sandler's earlier works, "Madison," "Gilmore," even "Waterboy," "Mr. Deeds" let me down. The film takes on a sappy love plot yet is almost entirely unable to make the audience enjoy it, as previous Sandler films were, `Big Daddy' and "The Wedding Singer" for instance. My explanation for this is that the initial plot for the film was created in the 30's, citing once again the lack of need for remakes.
Sander's trademark lack of acting skills doesn't help here either since comedy, which he is good at, appears hardly ever. It is rarely attempted throughout the movie, and when it is it reeks of Sandler (who had no part in the writing of the film), throwing himself out of character and interrupting the film's direction. This funniness is oftentimes not funny at all, and resembles more the glossy funny-in-concept humor of "Little Nicky" than what we expected from a younger, immature, funny Sandler. Jokes are not mindless enough (fun can only be poked at the name "Longfellow" so many times), love scenes too serious, and only one unoriginal musical number. Sandler plays a naïve country boy in the film, instead of the bad boy advertisers have made his character out to be, and was, if this movie had to be made at all, miscast.
However, I award this film with a "7" and suggest you see it (perhaps on video) for one reason; it is, unfortunately, one of John Turturro's funniest performances. This is a pity because it is quite obvious that the rest of the cast couldn't care less about the film, Gallagher and Rider in particular provide the most half-assed jobs of their careers. Even Sandler pals Allen Covert and Rob Schneider (who appears for only two lines to reprise his "Big Daddy" role) are at their all-time worst. Yet, Turturro provides the audience with many much-needed laughs and, unlike his fellow cast members, does not allow a single joke to pass by unnoticed. I must admit, Steve Buscemi was also good, but he creeps me out.
My final say on this movie: slightly worse than "The Wedding Singer," slightly better than "Little Nicky." Rent "Billy Madison" instead.