Love Actually (12/19/12)

Love ActuallyMovie Two Hundred Eighty Nine

At least eight different, intertwining tales of love at Christmastime in London come together in Love Actually.

The different stories –

  • Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is an aging rock star looking to stage a comeback with a new Christmas album with the help of his manager, Joe (Gregor Fisher).
  • Juliet (Keira Knightley) marries Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) but learns that Peter’s best friend, Mark (Andrew Lincoln) is in love with her.
  • A writer, Jamie (Colin Firth) finds his girlfriend sleeping with his brother and travels to a remote French cottage where he falls in love with the Portuguese cleaning lady, Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz), who doesn’t speak English.
  • Harry (Alan Rickman) finds himself attracted to his secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch), and his wife, Karen (Emma Thompson) begins to suspect something when she finds a gift for her.
  • David (Hugh Grant), the new Prime Minister, falls for Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), a member of his household staff.
  • Daniel (Liam Neeson) and his stepson, Sam (Thomas Sangster), mourn the loss of their wife and mother. Sam has also fallen for his American classmate and Daniel decides to help him win her over.
  • Sarah (Laura Linney) has had a crush on a coworker, Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), for years but their relationship is constantly interrupted by calls from her mentally ill brother.
  • Unlucky in love in London, Colin (Kris Marshall) decides to travel to America to find a girl, or girls.
  • John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) meet while filming as body doubles for various sex scenes.

Wow, do you have all that? It’s not nearly as confusing as it sounds as each of the stories is short and all of them overlap in some way. Characters crop up in different stories and the golden thread of the film is love. Love Actually is surprisingly one of the best romantic comedies I’ve ever seen. Love Actually is incredibly charming, honest, and funny and it’s a Christmas movie to boot. In fact, it’s the only Christmas movie I can think of that has nudity, so that doesn’t hurt.

There is a lot to keep track of in Love Actually and some of the story lines play out better than others, but the film rarely feels like it is trying to pull in too much. The only real disappointment comes if your favorite story lines don’t wrap up as fully as others. The cast is so varied that even if you have an aversion to an actor, they likely aren’t on screen long enough to get under your skin. When I was reviewing Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, I noted that Keira Knightley bothered me in that film, but here she is pleasant.

I had seen Love Actually a few years ago and vaguely remembered a few of the characters and their stories, but the film felt fresh to me. I could see moving Love Actually into regular Christmastime movie rotation, but it’s also complex enough to have it be “new” every few years. Regardless, I know it’s past Christmas but let Love Actually into your heart and onto your screen when the seasons rolls around again next year.

I give it 4 “to me, you are perfect…”s out of 5.

PS – I could not have written this review without the help of Wikipedia.

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Primal Fear (10/13/12)

Primal FearMovie Two Hundred Thirty One

After an altar boy is accused of murder, a defense attorney struggles with winning the case and finding the truth in Primal Fear.

Martin Vail (Richard Gere) is a hotshot Chicago defense attorney that will do anything to be in the public eye and also to get his high-paying clients acquitted. Vail sees that an altar boy named Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) has been accused of brutally killing an archbishop and is on the run from police. Vail decides to take up Stampler’s case pro-bono, knowing the publicity will be worth it. Aaron, a soft spoken southern boy seems completely incapable of murder and says he had nothing to do with the archbishop’s killing, despite being found covered in his blood. He is adamant that there was a third man in the room with them that committed the crime. After interviews with a psychologist (Frances McDormand), it’s discovered that Aaron has a second personality named Roy and that Roy is who really killed the archbishop. It’s up to Vail to win the case and also find out what is really going on with Aaron/Roy.

The reason for my wanting to watch Primal Fear again came about from browsing the Internet for memorable endings to films. Primal Fear happens to be on a number of these lists and with good reason. I remembered the ending but had forgotten most of the actual plot leading up to that point and decided to rewatch this gripping thriller.

Primal Fear is the movie that brought us the enormous talent of Edward Norton front and center, it was his first major acting gig. As far as I’m concerned, Norton blows the role out of the water. He does such a tremendous job, basically shifting between two completely opposing characters, sometimes in the same scene and doesn’t miss a beat. It seems like Norton doesn’t get much praise but he’s one of the best actors in the business in my mind. I’ve always been lukewarm about Gere (though I do love me some Mothman Prophecies), but he didn’t bug me too much. Laura Linney, who plays the prosecuting attorney, is fantastic as always.

The biggest drive that Primal Fear has, however, is the story. At times it gets a bit bogged down by the legal side of things as well as some of Vail’s narcissism, but for the most part there is a driving force towards the end of the trail and the truth behind the case. It’s a film that keeps you guessing until the very end and the payoff is worth every minute. Even knowing the ending of Primal Fear doesn’t spoil the experience but it does make the slow parts of the film seem slower. If you haven’t seen Primal Fear yet and miraculously haven’t ran afoul of spoilers, check it out.

I give it 4 slackjawed Edward Nortons out of 5.

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