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Starbuck

13 Apr

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Synopsis: “As his lover announces her pregnancy, a fortysomething slacker receives other life-changing news: 142 people, all of them the result of artificial insemination, have filed a class action lawsuit against him, their biological father.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 49 minutes)

When a movie has subtitles and is seen in a little art house cinema, should that make it better than mainstream fluff? Of course not, it just means it’s on a lower budget and has passed through more hoops to get onto American screens, so we’re often USED to only the best of the best making their way here.

No, this is by no means a great movie, it’s not even a very good movie in fact, but it’s an enjoyable film that I’m not surprised is coming out later this year with its own American remake starring Vince Vaughn. In fact, the little bit of  research I’ve done is telling…Starbuck was a French Canadian movie that actually came out in 2011. It was a huge hit for Quebec but was never released in American for some reason (maybe because it’s cute, but not great?). Then, just months before the Vince Vaughn starring remake is scheduled to be released in theaters, they brought the original to theaters here. I suppose that makes sense, since I left this silly but likable movie wanting to know if they’ll take the best elements of it, remove the silly unbelievable parts, and make a better remake. Probably not, but a movie-lover can dream, can’t he?

The movie itself stars Patrick Huard as a pretty convincing loser. A guy who has made nothing of his life, and you really have no reason to trust that he’s going to ever stop being a loser. Then he finds out his sperm donations from decades earlier fathered 533 children. While trying to avoid them finding out who he is, he finds himself looking into his kids one by one, not telling them who he is. That’s the basic premise and of course I won’t give spoilers. What I will say is the good, the bad and the ugly:

The good

The story was sweet, with plenty of touching and funny moments. It’s basically a movie that was built to be a fluffy crowd-pleaser, and it did its job. He’s a funny loser, his best friend/lawyer is a big fat funny loser, and there are plenty of decent laughs. Some of the moments between him and his unknowing kids were poignant, especially one who lives with special needs. And one way or another you end up rooting for him and this movie to have a happy ending. Like I said, it’s made to be a crowd-pleaser.

The bad

So much of what I described above just FELT manufactured and trite. It was extremely predictable from start to finish. Many of the lines of dialogue just felt…off. And if you will indulge me for a moment, I want to compare this movie to something seemingly random: last year’s violent cop drama End Of Watch. Before you start thinking I’m a crazy person, there’s logic behind my madness. The fantastic and riveting movie from last year suffered from one potential flaw: too much crazy stuff kept happening. Just about every day that Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña went through was the most dramatic, insane thing that should happen once in the lifetime of an actual cop. It was basically a movie that countless policemen said was AMAZING, but totally unbelievable how much each scene was contrived to drum up endless amounts of drama in the movie. This wasn’t necessarily even a flaw, because once you accepted that you would be watching over-the-top things happening, they were made oh-so-well, and you were on the edge of your seat excited, scared and concerned for the characters. It really was one of the best films of 2012.

So what does that have to do with Starbuck? His character would randomly look into each of his kids, but he would catch so many of them in over-the-top dramatic moments of their lives. Instead of just watching them serve coffee in a coffee shop, or walk to work as a lawyer, he would catch them in the midst of crises or other “big” moments, and at a certain point you couldn’t help but feel the behind-the-scenes machinations of the writers creating drama just to make the movie “bigger”. Sensationalism at the cost of authenticity. Plenty of Hollywood movies do it, and I’m sure the remake will do the same, but somehow when I watch a popular foreign film I just…have higher expectations that it won’t stoop to such manipulative, predictable tricks. Still, some of it was portrayed with tenderness and was still effectively sweet.

The ugly

There were certain moments that I can’t really get into because they would spoil the plot; scenes that were SO inane and illogical that Adi and Sarah each turned to me and rolled their eyes at the same time. Listen, when a woman gives birth she is NOT walking around normally (with no help nor hospital staff) an hour later as if nothing happened. I’m not someone who cares when they mess up technical jargon in movies, but this is pretty basic stuff here, sheesh. And when an entire decision that the main character has to make is based on something that MAKES NO SENSE, and that the movie doesn’t even try to address, explain or fix, it is simply infuriating. It creates a crux to the movie that holds no weight, and as a result just loses the audience a bit. This doesn’t matter much in straight up comedies, because you’re less interested in the characters and it’s mostly about the jokes along the way. But a movie like Starbuck isn’t SUPPOSED to just be a dumb comedy; it’s meant to be a sweet comedy, like Little Miss Sunshine, something that makes you laugh but also makes you care a great deal. In order for that to fully work, you can’t be silently screaming at key elements of the premise! I really hope that the American remake will fix these pieces, but moments ago I just lost most of my optimism that any significant fixes would be made. Why? Because I just researched who will be writing and directing this remake, would you care to guess? Ken Scott, the SAME writer/director who made this original. Here’s to hoping he recognized his own flaws and is looking to redeem those mistakes…

At the end of the day, I’ve spent so much time putting down the movies’ downsides, but truly you won’t be able to help but enjoy the story and how it develops. It’s never great, but you should feel yourself rooting for him and laughing enough times that it makes a nice little 2 hours in the cinema. I just hope that it will end up as the rare time that a big budget American remake is better than the original.

The movie was better than Made In America, a lame 1993 comedy where Ted Danson was a sperm donor for Whoopi Goldberg. It wasn’t as good as the underrated Jason Bateman comedy The Switch, where he “accidentally” donated his sperm to Jennifer Aniston, which was a much funnier and more touching than people gave credit for.

Quality Rating: B-

Boaz Rating: B+

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Amour (“My Conflicted Take On This Brilliant But Horrifying Movie”)

20 Jan

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Synopsis: “Georges and Anne are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack. The couple’s bond of love is severely tested.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours 7 minutes)

There was a great movie starring Judi Dench called Iris, where she played the true story of an older woman slowly fading from Alzheimer’s. I remember seeing this movie and beyond realizing her performance was a tour de force, I was absolutely depressed watching the movie, and cried for much of it. When I think about that movie to this very day, I still feel the emotional ties of sadness of not only a human being fading away, but the emotional lynch pin of that movie was her husband (played by Jim Broadbent who was  himself fantastic) having to cope with watching his wife fade piece by piece in front of his eyes. 

Amour tackles much of that same concept, but in a less polished, less typical, and much rawer way. I’m not trying to knock Iris one bit by the way, it was a fantastic movie that continues to haunt me years later, but it certainly still felt like a movie, just as you would expect. The specialness of Amour is how real it all feels. You actually feel like you’re watching moments from the lives of two elderly people who have lived a full life together, and now start experiencing it all being ripped from the seams. It is beyond heartbreaking, as every audience member must feel like I did, identifying their own grandparents, or parents, or someone else in their lives who this absolutely could be. People who love each other for generations, and one dreaded day, become sick, and then sicker, until all you can see is their disease.
Not one moment in the movie is over-dramatized, not one line in the movie hits you over the head, no musical score plays to heighten your sympathies (something it has in common with the excellent movie I reviewed yesterday, Zero Dark Thirty).

At first I thought I was finding one fatal flaw, many scenes seemed to not only move slowly, but went on well past when most scenes would end. If the doting and care-taking husband would start doing the dishes, the scene would not end when he picked up the first dish as with a normal movie, but you would watch him actually wash the first 6. When he would be called from the other room by a noise his increasingly helpless wife would make, you wouldn’t cut to the next shot of him arriving at her, but would watch him move his rather slow body all the way there, never moving the camera away from him, experiencing every step he takes. The more scenes I would watch of this slowly paced crawl the more I realized that that was an incredible film-making choice, basically putting you right there in the moment, as if it was you taking care of her. Because truly life moves in real time, and movies don’t, but this movie took many individual scenes and made them feel all the more real by the talented director Michael Haneke’s work. I not only teared up and cried throughout this movie, but I felt sick to my stomach as if I was experiencing an actual loss.

How can I possibly recommend this movie to someone who is too sensitive a person? I can tell you that although Adi thinks the movie was fantastic, and amazing, and deserves every award it was nominated for, she absolutely wishes she never saw it because it made her feel sick inside in a way that stuck with her for the rest of the night. I literally had to apologize for taking her to see the movie because of the powerful effect it had on her.

I’m not saying that most people can’t handle this, I think it would be hit or miss depending on whatever else is going on in one’s life, the health of their parents, their grandparents, their loved ones, but it certainly is a movie capable of striking the loudest cord, and that’s something that’s quite a revelation when you realize how many movies we see all the time that involve death of likable characters but never affect you in an emotional way like this. I realized during the movie that it’s a damn good thing that as a nurse I don’t get to know my patients as well as you get to know these two characters, because I was watching her taken care of the same way I’ve cared for countless elderly patients thus-far; obviously I am able to take care of patients such as the character in this movie without it making me burst out crying, but this movie throws you in the deep end and I challenge you not to be affected.

Clearly the performances were perfect. Absolutely perfect. Emmanuelle Riva not only was nominated for her performance but may as well have actually been a dying woman and I wouldn’t have known the difference. Jean-Louis Trintignant was phenomenal himself as her husband who had become her caretaker.

An amazing movie that I will be very careful as to who I recommend it to!

The movie was even greater than the phenomenal Iris that I discussed above, only because I literally never felt like I was watching a movie – a very rare feat. The movie was less good than…why bother splitting hairs, it was painful but just about perfect.

Quality Rating: A+

Boaz Rating: A+ (For the emotional impact and connection I had to it. I’m tempted to punish it with an F for how it’s going to make me feel for the next few weeks!)