I keep meaning to catch up with the rest of the world and see Guardians of the Galaxy. In the meantime, I’ve been diverting myself with more obscure movies, all of which, I’ve realized, are variations on the love story.
Life, Itself is a documentary about the life of Roger Ebert. And he had an interesting one: he almost accidentally fell into his movie critic role, and that led him to a Pulitzer prize, a popular television show, friendships with movie stars and directors, and even a brief career as a screenwriter for a most unexpected film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. He also suffered from alcoholism and, later in life, a debilitating form of cancer that robbed him of speech and the ability to eat.
The filming begins while he is undergoing for said cancer, and his physical struggles and treatment are sometimes hard to watch. Filming continued up to and beyond the day he died (but his death is not on film!).
How is this a love story? Well, that’s courtesy of Chaz, the woman Roger married late in life, who transformed his life for the better, and whose witness to his final days, as presented in this movie, is touching and beautiful.
I’d read the autobiography this documentary is based on, so I knew the outlines of the life story already, but it was quite interesting seeing and hearing the perspectives from other people. The behind-the-scenes films of Siskel and Ebert bickering are particularly fun.
I wasn’t sure what Jean would think of this, but he declared it “pretty good”, commenting approvingly that Roger was not made to look like a saint here.
Austenland (August 2013) – Borrowed from library (30% positive at RT—ouch!)
This one (which was a bit hard to track down; hurray for libraries) is the most conventional romantic comedy of the bunch, the story of a young woman obsessed with Jane Austen, who decides to spend an amount of money she can’t really afford to go on a trip to Austenland, where the female participants get to act out their own Austen-like story with male actors.
The lead characters (liked Keri Russell) play it straight, while the supporting cast (James Callis, Jennifer Coolidge) go for very broad humor. This makes the movie feel a bit off-kilter at times. It was funny, though. And I did like that the main story wasn’t entirely predictable, even down to who the leading man really was.
Jean declared that this one “wasn’t bad.”
Don Jon (September 2013) – TMN (80% positive rating)
OK, so this is about a young man, Jon (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is obsessed with porn and doesn’t much see the point of long-term, real-life relationships—until he meets the lovely Barbara (played by Scarlett Johansson). If this was a true romantic comedy, they would fall in love, she would reform him, they would then have some of conflict, but they’d get together in the end.
This is not a true romantic comedy. And I won’t spoil what does happen, as it is somewhat unpredictable and fairly interesting. It’s notable that the character of Barbara is herself as obsessed with romantic comedies as Jon is with porn. And that proves to have its own issues when it comes to real-life relationships.
I forgot to ask Jean what he thought of this one, but he stayed in the TV room and watched it all, so I’m assuming he didn’t hate this one, either.
Veronica Mars (March 2014) – TMN (78% positive rating)
This one is basically a long episode of Veronica Mars, a TV show that ran for three years, from 2004–2007. The premise, somewhat amusingly, is that Veronica Mars gave up all her sleuthing work for nine years now, thus ensuring the show’s fans that they really haven’t missed anything!
What draws her back? Why love, of course, in the form of ex Logan, who’s been accused of the murder of his current girlfriend.
So this is much more a murder mystery than a romance, and I haven’t the faintest idea if it would appeal to anyone who hadn’t watched. As someone who had, I was mainly amazed at how completely I’d managed to forget certain characters over the past 9 years, considering I was a pretty big fan of this show.
Jean declared this a quite enjoyable movie, despite his not being entirely convinced by the murder plot resolution.
Enough Said (September 2013) – Redbox rental (96% positive rating)
Hey, a movie starring grown-ups! In the form of James Gandolfini, as Albert, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as Eva. But these are damaged, cynical adults, all divorced or seemingly on the verge of it. Eva, in particular, can’t seem to trust her own feelings of attraction and fondness toward Albert, allowing her view of him to be poisoned by the opinion of others.
Jean, especially, found her behavior hard to watch at times. “God, this is making me so uncomfortable!” was a frequent refrain. In fact, at one point he was so uncomfortable, he had to leave the room for a while.
I think it’s fair to say this movie won’t leave you indifferent. But maybe not the best “date night” movie.
Behind the Candelabra (May 2013) – HBO Canada (95% positive)
And speaking of uncomfortable… This is the story of the relationship between Liberace, played by Michael Douglas (of all people) and a young man named Scott Thorston, played by Matt Damon, on whose book this movie is based.
It’s not the fact that it’s gay love story that makes this uncomfortable. (I found the early scenes of their budding relationship very sweet, in fact.) It’s the power differential in the relationship that made it increasingly hard to watch. Liberace was older, richer, more famous, more established in his career than Scott… He holds all the cards. Scott becomes completely dependent on him; “Lee”, as he says, becomes “his whole life.”
So when Lee suggests he lose some weight on the “LA diet”—some sort of amphetamines—he does, becoming hopelessly addicted in the process. And when Lee suggests that Scott get plastic surgery to look more like, well, Liberace himself, Scott does that too! z(I actually had to stop watching, for a while, at that point.) And when it ends, well, there was no “alimony” available for gay men back in the 1980s.
It’s interesting, and the actors are very good, but this is no date night movie, either. (No Jean report here; he didn’t watch this movie.)