' ' Cinema Romantico

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Summer Break

(Optional Musical Accompaniment To This Post.)

Hello, loyal frustrated followers. Cinema Romantico has a fairly momentous occasion on the horizon, one you might be able to deduce from recent blog content. Let’s just say that this blog’s favorite recurring character — My Beautiful, Perspicacious Girlfriend — is set for an upgrade to, shall we say, a more permanent blogging sobriquet. As such, we had planned to take a few days off before and a day or two after to just sort of luxuriate in our life event. But hey, it’s a life event transpiring in the middle of summer, and summer is typically when people take some time off, and so we felt like a bout of slightly extended summer blogging vacation might be in order.

Not to worry, of course, because we will be back soon enough, probably in a week and a half. We would never dream of ceasing to inflict our asinine opinions on you! Ha! Besides, this will give us time to catch up on some of the 2018 movies we have missed, which is a lot of them, and indulge in our preferred methodology of rumination before review. And as a teaser, let me also say that August is right around the corner, and our Friday’s Old Fashioned, while traditionally 80s-oriented for the eighth month of the year, is slated for a slightly different flavored bourbon this time around. But I can’t give the whole recipe away just yet. So hang tight, and soon, after some celebration, we will be back on blogging time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

At the Movies: A Walk Through Cinematic Weddings

Years ago, during a casual discussion about “The Deer Hunter”, a friend of mine said that his first go with Michael Cimino’s magnum opus left him wondering why the wedding scene was so long until it gradually dawned on him that the wedding scene’s duration essentially encapsulated every wedding he had ever attended. I agreed. But then, the “movies is magic”, as Gregory Hines memorably observed in “History of the World Part 1”, and so even if I do not object to the wedding scene in “The Deer Hunter” on its own terms, I wonder if authenticity is exactly what we want from our movie weddings. Wouldn’t we want something bigger and bolder? Wouldn’t we want something to channel the preposterousness that wedding planners and relatives cum wedding planners would never allow? Wouldn’t we want something like the ending of “Blue Hawaii”, with the King floating down Wailua River aboard a tropical flower adorned canoe and serenading Joan Blackman with the Hawaiian Wedding Song? (And which you, prospective movie-obsessed bride and groom, can sort of re-create for the low, low price of $2,495 to $3,795!)

Maybe you wouldn’t want something like the end of “Blue Hawaii”, and that’s okay, but this is my blog, not yours. And I might want something like the end of “Blue Hawaii”, or at least like the end of “Honeymoon in Vegas”, because if you can’t get real Elvis then several Elvis impersonators keeping watch like a heavenly host is the next best thing. But then again, that is probably not what I would want. No, I would probably want something more like the wedding in “Rachel Getting Married”, apart from all the pre-familial drama, of course, though that, it goes without saying, is part and parcel, in varying amounts, to any rite of nuptials. That wedding was a multicultural celebration with big hunks of meat on plates passed around the backyard, Anita Sarko (RIP) as the D.J., and the groomsmen opting out of matching attire to instead don clothes as a reflection of their own individual souls; take your tux fittings out to the wedding planning trash.

I would be remiss, however, if I failed to mention my favorite Will Smith wedding. No, not the impromptu ceremony at Area 51 – just like every little girl’s dream – in “Independence Day” between his Air Force Captain and Vivica A. Fox’s, uh, adult dancer (but very nice person), which sort of doubles as a two-for-one wedding since ace cable repairman David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and Press Secretary Constance Spano (Margaret Colin), acting as witnesses, sort of rekindle their own defunct marriage in the background at the same time. That is a wonderful movie wedding, undoubtedly, and yet I, avowed cinema fan, constantly, annoyingly blathering about how I only watch a couple TV shows and absolutely no more, dammit, have long considered Peak Dream Wedding to have taken place on episode 117 of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire.”

You know, when Will (Smith) and Lisa (Nia Long) elope to Las Vegas against the wishes of their parents and find themselves on the precipice of getting hitched in a “Shaft”-themed wedding featuring, per sweeps month criteria, a stellar guest turn in the form of Isaac Hayes as the officiant. At that point in my life, I had not even seen “Shaft” nor attended a wedding, but I clearly remember thinking to myself in this scene’s aftermath, “That. That’s what I want my wedding to be.” Google wasn’t around in 1995 but if it had been I probably would have Googled: Las Vegas Last of the Mohicans Themed Weddings.

Of course, the “Shaft” wedding goes awry on account of Isaac Hayes’s relentless interruptions and backup singers that keep trampling the groom’s attempts to recite his vows with their vocal flourishes, prompting Will and Lisa to flee with the would-be groom giving the officiant a piece of his mind on the way out (“Your Isaac Hayes impression STINKS!”). It’s funny stuff, sure, but it also inherently exposes a fundamental truth — that is, the ceremonial pomp and circumstance is weightless if you don’t speak the words, and if the words spoken are not filled with love and meaning.

That was addressed in a very Wes Andersonian way in the finicky auteur’s “Moonrise Kingdom” by Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman), the Falcon Scout Legionnaire running Supply & Resources, who is enlisted to oversee the wedding of the teenage protagonists, Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman). Says Ben to the aspiring newlyweds: “I can’t offer you a legally binding union. It won’t hold up in the state, the county, or, frankly, any courtroom in the world due to your age, lack of a license, and failure to get parental consent – but the ritual does carry a very important moral weight within yourselves.” He then tells them to go off to the side and consider what it is they are about to do.

Anderson sets this shot beside a trampoline, which is nominally quirky but deceptively deep, childhood ceding to something akin to young adulthood. Suzy and Sam do have a ceremony not long after, but it feels deliberately perfunctory to what comes before, the direct result of consideration rather than an ill-considered flight of faux-marital fancy.

You sort of see this harsh truth in the light of “Jerry Maguire.” The film cuts straight from the eponymous sports agent’s (Tom Cruise) spur of the moment proposal to Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger) to their wedding, but director Cameron Crowe films the actual ceremony by keeping the camera entirely affixed to Dorothy’s six year old son, Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki), the ring-bearer, standing down below Jerry and Dorothy, betraying that the little dude is the whole reason they are getting hitched in the first place. And so even if their small-time backyard wedding earns its keep, a little less Isaac Hayes, a little more Marvin Gaye, seen in a comically exemplary shot sliding from left to right and past a mariachi band to find Jerry’s best man (and only client) Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) belting out “What’s Going On”, the union is doomed because of the bride and groom’s refusal to consider the ritual’s moral weight.

In another Cameron Crowe joint, the legendary “Elizabethtown”, the moral weight of the wedding is not conveyed but implied. In a movie filled with obvious juxtapositions, the most obvious might be that Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), in Louisville for his father’s funeral, is staying at the Brown Hotel right next door to Chuck Hasboro (Jed Rees), who is there for his wedding to Cindy. Though this might suggest a parallel romantic crisis to Drew’s own romantic and personal and romantic crises, Chuck and Cindy are copacetic. Indeed, Chuck is really just Buddha in a bathrobe, offering Drew encouragement and enlightenment, free of any dramatic mountain to scale because he has already achieved contentment.

That notion comes home in Crowe’s deliberate refusal to show us Chuck and Cindy’s wedding even though it looms so large. In that way, their wedding evokes the apartment of Cosmo Kramer in so much as it was never shown because its awesomenimity was unmeasurable and therefore impossible to properly visually express. At the same time, however, keeping the ceremony off screen works as an intrinsic reminder that a wedding, ornate or uncomplicated or points in-between, is only as festive and indelible as the love and meaning of the union itself. We don’t need to see the wedding to know it will rock its guests like a hurricane.

We don’t see the wedding in “True Romance” either. Maybe that’s because Alabama (Patricia Arquette) and Clarence (Christian Slater) tie the knot in a Detroit marriage court, or maybe because their delightful, calypso-assisted post-wedding walk down the aisle, in a manner of speaking, is more than enough. Whatever wish fulfillment flaws that romance might have as written by Quentin Tarantino, as played and presented by director Tony Scott in this moment, it pops, literally, with the pink of Clarence’s sport coat and Alabama’s dress and purse contrasting against the gray of the courthouse and the ickiness of the leftover snow, like phosphorescence in the depths of the ocean.

I always think of this wedding because Clarence’s hero is Elvis, and whereas Elvis’s wedding in “Blue Hawaii” is as lavish as they come, here it is as small as can be, and yet the amorous infusion is no less or different. So many movie weddings are so basic in their opulence, production designers copying and pasting from paint by the numbers wedding mags rather than thinking outside the box. But then, maybe so many weddings at the movies are merely flavorless rituals because the movies themselves too often proffer mere ersatz love, failing to make us believe in forever after.

Clarence’s hero might be Elvis but I suddenly find myself thinking of Paul McCartney: in the end, the love you take, is equal to the wedding you make.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Paul Giamatti Will Play Your Chicken

I think often of William Goldman’s anecdote in his memoir “Adventures in the Screen Trade” when he recounts during filming on “Marathon Man” a moment in which Dustin Hoffman halted, more or less, production to hound the director as to why, at a suspenseful moment, his character would have a flashlight on his bed table. “In my opinion,” wrote Goldman, “(Hoffman) didn’t want the flashlight because his fans would think him chicken.” Maybe that’s true, maybe that isn’t, but what I know is this…Paul Giamatti is never worried about his fans thinking him chicken. I thought of this while watching the recently released “The Catcher Was a Spy” (review to come…eventually).

Giamatti plays Samuel Goudsmit, the Dutch-American physicist, one who was involved in the Manhattan Project, though “The Catcher Was a Spy” details his attempts, along with main character Moe Berg (Paul Rudd), to track down German physicist Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong) and gauge the validity and/or progress of his attempts to create an atomic bomb for the Third Reich. Doing so involves trekking from the background to the battlefront, including a scene where Berg and intelligence officer Robert Furman (Guy Pearce) find themselves in the midst of a shootout as the Allies try to take a German-held town. It is a moment glimpsed in the following still:

In the silhouetted images of Pearce and Rudd you see the traditional sort of action hero, smartly moving forward, determined, unafraid, valorous. As Goudsmit, however, Giamatti is conspicuously a step or two behind, and in a pose suggesting he is holding on for dear life, just as he is holding onto his helmet as if it is about to topple of his head. Granted, his character is, as stated, a physicist, quite decidedly not a soldier, but this commitment to playing the moment, shall we say, well out of his element still got me to thinking about another turn of Giamatti’s in wartime conditions.

That would be “Saving Private Ryan”, Steven Spielberg’s WWII opus of 20 years ago, where Giamatti turned up briefly as Hill, Staff Sergeant in the 101st Airborne at Neuville who greets the squad headed up by Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) that has coming looking for the eponymous Private Ryan. In that film Giamatti actually is, as his title implies, a soldier, and one in charge, and yet Giamatti gives his performance the very discernible ring of a man in ove rhis head.

Indeed, his character moans about having a bug in his boot, and when he tries to lead Miller’s squad where they need to go, through a hail of sniper fire, Hill trips, briefly. That stumble is everything; that stumble would be the equivalent of Dustin Hoffman in “Marathon Man” yellow-bellying around with his flashlight. Giamatti included that trip, I suppose, to set up a later moment when, complaining of bad ankles, he sits down at an inopportune moment and initiates a semi-pratfall as a means to expose a group of Nazi soldiers leading to a tense standoff. Still, someone had to play the part and someone had to play the part that way, and that Giamatti was the person is because he is a person willing to do so which is more than you can say for a lot of people in a profession that skews vain.

That small performance is why I found Giamatti’s turn in “The Catcher Was a Spy” so extraordinary. Twenty years on, bless his soul, he is still willing to haplessly dash rather than coolly swagger into battle. A great many actors might not mind moral gray areas, even emotional insecurities, but playing chicken? Hoo boy, that is something else. But Paul Giamatti? Paul Giamatti, filmmakers, will play your chicken.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Possible Names of Skyscraper Sequels

This week is the release of Dwyane Johnson’s aspirant blockbuster “Skyscraper.” It chronicles, per IMDB, an FBI Hostage Rescue Team Leader and U.S. war veteran turned skyscraper security expert (Johnson) who finds the tallest, safest building in the world suddenly ablaze and- oh, the hell with this. It’s “Die Hard”, okay? It’s “Die Hard” in a Skyscraper, but I repeat myself. And that’s okay. We are not opposed to such out-and-out cinematic lifting. After all, “Once Upon a Time in the West” lifted pretty heavily from “Johnny Guitar” and all we got there was one of The Greatest Movies Ever Made.

I’m sure “Skyscraper” will be one of The Greatest Movies Ever Made too. But that’s not what concerns us. What concerns us is the obvious “Skyscraper” sequel; what do you call the obvious “Skyscraper” sequel? Aren’t you glad we asked?

Possible Names of Skyscraper Sequels

Tower. Not be confused with “Tower” (2016), “Tower Heist” (2011), or “The Towering Inferno” (1974).

Water Tower. If “Tower” is not sufficiently high concept.

Superstructure. If Tower/Water Tower is too much of a lateral move from Skyscraper.

Space Elevator. If Superstructure is too lo-fi for your marketing department.

Atrium. If you want to keep things inside and synergize with the Hyatt® brand.

Monument. Pencil it in for a 4th of July release and figure out the rest later.

Lighthouse. Like “Annihilation” but with fewer enigmas and more explosions.

Center for the Performing Arts. I’m always hearing that only Liberal Elites care about Hollywood, yet Big, Dumb Hollywood Action Movies rarely cater to Liberal Elites.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Friday's Old Fashioned: Across the Pacific (1942)

As I watched “Across the Pacific”, John Huston’s 1942 joint, I kept thinking about how its plot, in which a disgraced army captain gets back in the cosmos’ good graces by thwarting a Japanese plot to destroy the Panama Canal, must have functioned to movie-goers a few months removed from December 7, 1941 as a kind of catharsis, or a chance to re-write Pearl Harbor as a happy ending. After finishing the movie, however, in doing a little light research, I learned, per Turner Classic Movies, that, in fact, “Across the Pacific” had been written as a thwarting of a fictional Japanese plot at Pearl Harbor. Then, when Pearl Harbor really happened, “Across the Pacific” was hastily re-written, which no doubt contributed to the movie’s ultimate slapdash quality, switching awkwardly between genres before concluding with Humphrey Bogart at a machine gun, firing away, like Brian Donlevy in “Wake Island”, just, you know, happier. Bogie could do a lot of things, and he could do some things better than anyone else before or after him…but not heroically firing a machine gun. Cool Repose was his default mode, and Cool Repose does not quite work while holding down a machine gun. There was a reason, after all, that Stefan Kanfer titled his Bogart book “Tough Without a Gun.”

That slapdash quality might also have connected to the movie’s genesis, which was less about patriotism than marketing, a chance to re-team the stars of 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon”, Bogart along with Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet. And where the “Falcon’s” plot, culled from a book, was sharp, “Across the Pacific’s” is not, lurching from espionage to romance and back again, sort of deciding on espionage, but not completely, and then never completely committing to the darkness that the espionage plot suggests. After all, Bogie’s Captain Rick Leland is court martialed and kicked out of the army without honors, for stealing, we eventually learn, and the story as it sets up gives him a chance to turn coat on a steamer bound for China by way of the Panama Canal in the name of money.

That money is offered by Dr. Lorenz (Greenstreet), a Japanese sympathizer, who wants to use Leland for information vital to his mission to blow the Canal sky high. Leland seems to waver, but not really. A sharper-edged Bogart, a la “In a Lonely Place”  really could have sold his notion of betraying America once and for all. He was an actor never afraid to play unlikable, but the script seems oddly intent on us liking him, and so his character’s edge is blunted in the romance scenes with Astor’s Alberta Marlow, a fellow steamer passenger who may or may not be a spy though the script takes few pains to try and paint her as a spy in any real way.

What’s more, the movie, as you might expect in such a precarious wartime America, contains no shortage of uncomfortable Japanese jokes, all of which I’m sure were met with riotous laughter. That’s not a knock on The Greatest Generation. Hearing these jokes made me think of Khandi Alexander’s cameo in “Patriots Day” telling the wife of one of the Marathon Bombers, who protests that she has “rights”, she “ain’t got shit, sweetheart” which led to cacophonous cheers at the screening attended, a democracy gone haywire. War does funny things to Americans. Then again, there are also occasional insights presented into Japanese culture, like a scene that lingers over the very real philosophy of judo, and then goes so far as to make Bogie the butt of the joke.

If in so many of his movies Bogie was in cool control, where the joy was in watching him command a room, in “Across the Pacific” he is often a few more steps behind than usual. That is not a bad thing, per se, because against type can work, though Bogie was the sort of star who often needed to adhere to his type to be effective. That comes home in the conclusion, which feels perfunctory, like the filmmakers did not quite know what to do, which turns out to be true. Returning to the film’s production history, TCM also recounts how Huston, set to depart for service in WWII, devised a concluding sequence wherein Rick Leland would be trapped in a house, tied to a chair, surrounded by soldiers, with more soldiers waiting outside. Per TCM: “There was no way in God's green world that Bogart could logically escape,” said Huston. “I shot the scene, then called Jack Warner and said, Jack, I’m on my way. I’m in the army. Bogie will know how to get out.” Bogie would have known how, absolutely, but this Rick Leland fella? Not so much.

Thursday, July 05, 2018


“Downsizing” is a peculiar movie that manages to both intentionally and inadvertently live up to its title. Imagining a future where human beings, through a scientific process introduced in the movie’s prologue, can be miniaturized to but a few inches, director Alexander Payne builds out this world with great ingenuity and imagination for a while before eventually leaving that world’s specifics behind to explore nominally bigger themes. Those bigger themes, however, are merely used to make its main character, the mellifluously named Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) wake up and smell the coffee. Perhaps, but the coffee “Downsizing” brews feel more like a half-caff, a far-reaching journey that makes points, sure, but never cuts loose in doing so. Paul might wake up, but I felt like I was falling asleep.

Paul and his wife Audrey (Kristin Wiig) first get the inclination to downsize after encountering an old friend, Dave (Jason Sudeikis), who has gone through the procedure and come out of it raving. As the Safraneks explore the option, Payne very deliberately paints it less as an act of philosophical daring or scientific wonder, as the prologue suggests, than a pair of schmoes getting pitched a timeshare. Indeed, the downsizing community is called Leisure Land and its McMansions and chain restaurants paint an obvious picture of suburbia. Miniaturized, a middle class family instantly becomes millionaires. Who wouldn’t want to do it? If April and Frank Wheeler had lived in the era of Trump rather than Eisenhower, no doubt Leisure Land would have replaced their Paris pipe dream.

Rather than explore the disintegration of their marriage through the context of downsizing, however, the movie removes Audrey early when she opts out of the procedure at the last second and strands Paul in the land of the small on his own. He settles into a monotonous life without his spouse, only to be taken under the wing of the party animal, Dusan (Christoph Waltz), living upstairs, kicking off a run of the mill variation of one man’s search for meaning. The issues do not necessarily stem from the two scoops of vanilla ice cream that is another white man’s soul search as they do from the film’s inability to evince that soul search with any sizzles. This is emblemized in a Dusan hosted bacchanal where Paul pops a pill and then immediately tries puking it up. He fails, but the intent is what matters - never has a movie so ambitious seemed so square. “Downsizing” is like Terry Gilliam for the bake sale crowd.

Indeed, once the procedure is complete and the first few come-to-terms moments are out of the way, “Downsizing” virtually loses interest in the idea of being miniature. Instead, as Paul meets a Vietnamese dissident, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), who was downsized against her will, the movie becomes a fairly blatant allegory for how the more things change the more they stay the same. Not necessarily a false lesson, mind you, but also not necessarily one that Payne finds way to spruce up despite his appealing premise. You could approximate the experience of watching this movie by watching a re-run of “The One That Could Have Been” two part “Friends” episode.

Paul’s quest continues in the presence of Ngoc, with whose down on her luck existence he willingly becomes entangled. Her character, as per frustrating tradition, is rarely allowed her own thoughts and feelings, existing to be his agent of change, though Chau’s fiery personality gives the character life anyway. Her every gesture and utterance seems to express exasperation with this stupid man in her presence, and both inadvertently and intentionally she urges him to stop feeling sorry for himself. She’s a bit like Ferris Bueller in that way, less complex than the person she is shepherding, but only because she seems to already know so much more. And she essentially implores Paul to stop and take a look around because he seems to be missing everything. But then, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” heeded its own advice, taking in the world around its characters even as its characters navigated it. Despite its premise, “Downsizing” rarely does the same, not until the end, and by then, well, the movie has already passed you by.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

keira knightley as an american

It’s the Fourth of July, Independence Day here in the States, yada yada, and so here’s a picture of this blog’s British beloved in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” (2014) playing an American character since we would not want to offend any delicate sensibilities by posting a picture of this blog’s British beloved playing a British character since, hey, did you know, we won the war, not them, it’s true, not a lot of people know that.