Tag Archives: romance

Review: ‘The Exception’

dfn-the-exception-300If a film captures my attention, respect, or admiration, I’m much more likely to be captivated, rather than stumbled, by any narrative twists.

Based on Alan Judd’s novel The Kaiser’s Last Kiss, first published in 2003, David Leveaux’s twist-filled film The Exception is set at a secluded estate in The Netherlands where Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) lives in exile with his wife Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer) during the early days of World War II. The aged Kaiser is none too happy about his exile and is easily provoked into anger by any hint that he is to blame for his own circumstances.

Into this volatile situation strides SS Captain Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney), who was involved in some unspecified unpleasantness that called his fitness for service into question. Stefan is ordered to take charge of the Kaiser’s private bodyguard unit. He is informed that a British agent has been spotted in the area; if anything happens to the Kaiser, Stefan will be held personally responsible (i.e., executed).

As he arrives, Stefan takes notice of Mieke de Jong (Lily James), a new maid at the estate. That evening, she appears in his private quarters, whereupon he commands her to take off her clothes. The sexual act that follows is brief and fraught with peril.

The description also applies to the tense atmosphere that fills the estate and overflows into the nearby village. It’s 1940 and Germany has recently invaded The Netherlands, and so everyone is understandably anxious. Yet Stefan puts all that aside and fixates on Mieke; when she surprises him in his private quarters the following night, and orders him to take off his clothes in the same manner that he did, he is captivated and obeys.

Their relationship is primal rather than romantic, apparently driven by mad lust. It’s the aspect of the film that is the least believable, however. Why on earth would a young Dutch woman be attracted to a rather sullen German officer when her own people have just been invaded by his, and vice versa on the attraction front? It’s a rather curious affair, especially at first when we’re expected to believe that, in those war-torn circumstances, Romeo must have his Juliet.

Leaving that aside, Christopher Plummer offers a variety of treasures in his performance as the Kaiser. He has the unerring ability, shared by all great actors, of being able to snap instantly from a quiet pose into a rip-roaring, furious fount of resentment and then back again, all in the proper measure and without seeming indulgent.

As his wife, Janet McTeer embodies restrained aristocracy. She refuses to acknowledge that their status has changed in any way, and retains an air of self-assured superiority.

Lily James, known for playing bright and cheerful characters on TV’s Downton Abbey and on the big screen in Cinderella and Baby Driver, here dives deep into a character with hidden reservoirs of the darkest emotions. Her posture is stiff and precise; she always gives off an aura of fear, but underlined with purposeful determination.

Jai Courtney is well-suited to play an SS officer. His stiff countenance and rigid nature fits the character precisely.

The drama unfolds in a gorgeous setting with gorgeous period details, thanks to production designer Hubert Pouille and costumer designer Daniela Ciancio. Roman Osin’s photography also looks appropriately moody and film editor Nicolas Gaster keeps the momentum moving forward, though sometimes the pace gets a bit sludgy.

Simon Burke, who has extensive credits in television, is credited for the screenplay, which relies too much on twists that aren’t terribly surprising and don’t add any insight into the characters or the circumstances. Theoretically, the twists should bolster the primary narrative, but instead they often feel silly.

Tony Award-winning director David Leveaux presents a polished film that is stuck somewhere between a conventional thriller and a historical drama. It feels at once too earnest and too predictable to succeed, but the performances by James and Plummer make the trip more enjoyable than not.

The film opens at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas on Friday, June 30.

Review: ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’

Audrey Plaza and Mark Duplass in 'Safety Not Guaranteed' (FilmDistrict)     Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass in 'Safety Not Guaranteed' (FilmDistrict)
Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass in ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ (FilmDistrict)

Everyone carries around the baggage of personal experience. At best, it’s distilled into a handy guidebook, available for reference as needed, and light enough not to weigh down the bearer.

With its references to time-travel, mental instability, the pangs of lost love, and the possibilities of romantic adventure, Safety Not Guaranteed starts by strapping itself down to routine expectations. And if the viewer is familiar with lead actors Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, and Jake Johnson from their other creative endeavors, the combined weight could prove to be a serious drag.

In the genial atmosphere created by writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow, however, a strange chemical reaction occurs, and the result is not at all according to formula; the baggage is cut loose and the characters float upward, if not quite into the stratosphere. Safety Not Guaranteed is amiable, lovable, adorable, and winning.

The humor is silly, broad, and varied; mostly it consists of one-liners delivered in a familiar, deadpan rhythm: boom, chicka-chicka boom, seasoned by visual jokes and carefully-observed, well-timed facial reactions. Some of it erupts, no doubt, from familiarity with the performers; if you’ve watched Parks and Recreation and/or New Girl during the past broadcast television season(s), then you’ve been indoctrinated into the sly style of humor practiced by Plaza and Johnson; if you’ve seen any other movie in which Duplass has acted, you can pretty much anticipate his every move.

Perhaps my familiarity with Plaza and Johnson — especiall Plaza, who has blossomed into a more versatile performer in the last year and displayed a wider range on TV than shown here — makes me more susceptible to the humor, which I found to be sly and clever. As someone who is allergic to broad, studio-system comedies that aim at the lowest common denominator, Safety Not Guaranteed is, happily, not that. It’s much smarter, aiming at the heart rather than the belly or the groin.

Darius (Plaza) is an intern for Seattle Magazine who desperately wants a break; Jeff (Johnson) is a complacent staff writer. When an unusual classified ad catches the attention of the magazine’s editor at a pitch meeting, Jeff grabs the out-of-town assignment and requests two interns for assistance. Darius quickly volunteers, as does the prototypical nerdy Amau (Karan Soni).

Soon it’s revealed that Jeff is only interested in the assignment because he wants to reunite with high school love Liz (Jenica Bergere), who lives in town. While he tries to spark up old romantic fires, Darius is left to investigate the individual who advertised for a companion to “go back in time.” When she makes contact with Kenneth Calloway (Duplass), he appears to be a delusional paranoid who works at a grocery store, a basically harmless type who charms her without necessarily meaning to do so, even as he sounds and acts more and more unhinged.

Darius pretends to take Kenneth (and his claims to have built a time machine) seriously so she can get a story for the magazine, but soon finds herself falling for him. Other than the secrets that he harbors, he is an open and honest person, friendly to a point and pretty adorable to someone like Darius, who has built a self-protective shell around herself.

Meanwhile, Jeff pursues Liz with a clear agenda set in his own mind. Most obviously, he wants to time travel in the emotional sense, to go back to a period when the world was simpler and, he and Liz enjoyed a pure love, unhindred by real-life (i.e., adult) responsibilities.

While these emotional currents are swirling quite obviously below the surface — as though the emotional lives of the characters were covered only in a thin layer of transparent material — the story moves forward and the humor keeps flowing in an agreeable manner.

No one hides in Safety Not Guaranteed; not really. The characters plainly lay bare their attributes and flaws to those they care about the most, sometimes without even realizing it, all of which helps to make the film a rousing success.

Safety Not Guaranteed opens today at Angelika Dallas and Cinemark West Plano.

Originally published, in slightly different form, at Twitch. Photos courtesy of FilmDistrict and Big Beach.

‘The Adjustment Bureau’ Romantically Tackles Fate

The Adjustment Bureau
Matt Damon romances Emily Blunt in 'The Adjustment Bureau.' (Universal Pictures)

Matt Damon capably steps into the romantic spotlight, paired with Emily Blunt in the very romantic ‘The Adjustment Bureau.’ Based on a story by Philip K. Dick, the film was adapted for the screen and directed by George Nolfi. The result is very pleasing to the mind and very easy on the eyes.

“Moves quickly and lightly, even as it explores the boundaries of love and romance and asks fundamental questions about the meaning of existence. All that is packed neatly into an attractive, glossy thriller.”

You can read my entire review at Red Carpet Crash.

The film opens wide across the Metroplex; check showtimes via Google.

‘Take Me Home Tonight’ Serves Up Warmed-Over 80s

Take Me Home Tonight
Topher Grace and Teresa Palmer give 80s romance a go.

Topher Grace stars and serves as a producer in ‘Take Me Home Tonight,’ a romantic comedy set in the 80s that also stars Teresa Palmer and Anna Faris. Reviews have generally been scathing.

“The thing is aggressively bad, and it just doesn’t stop. Rare is the film that hangs its stars out to dry with this sort of tenacious consistency.” — Scott Weinberg, Twitch.

If you still want to go — perhaps to torture yourself or a loved one — check showtimes via Google. It’s playing wide across the Metroplex.