Mini-Reviews: To Rome With Love, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World
To Rome With Love:
Woody Allen’s final film in his series of European stories leaves us with an abundance of stories and ideas about the fleeting nature of life, but the construction of the film does him no favors. The choppiness of the scenes and the uneven way the segments flow together leave one wondering if he wanted these stories to be viewed as connected. Even he seems to dismiss the idea of these stories being connected in any way by starting the film with the lazy plot device of a narrator saying “I see lots of people in Rome. Here are some of them.” Two of the storylines– one following an average man who finds fame for literally no reason, another following an opera producer discovering a new talent– feel particularly autobiographical. During these chunks, the movie sparks to life. Another plotline starring Ellen Page as a sexual temptress never really clicks because it cast Ellen Page as a sexual temptress, and the fourth never really clicks with the other three, despite strong performances from Alessandra Mastonardi as a Madonnaesque newlywed and Penelope Cruz as a prostitute (Woody always seems inspired as a writer by utterly gorgeous women). It’s still going to be catnip for Allen fans like myself, but it lacks the focus and sure hand of his last film, Midnight in Paris.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter:
By taking the source material somewhat seriously, Timur Bekmambetov improved upon his first major Hollywood film, Wanted, by creating a story with heart among the chaos. Ben Walker, who I’ve been hyping since I saw him absolutely slay Broadway in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, gives a charismatic and credible leading man performance, and Bekmambetov keeps the vampires rushing and the axes flying for the most part. Dominic Cooper as a mentor with a secret that you’ll guess in five seconds has some fun, but his role leads to repetition: he warns Abe not to do something, Abe does it, he warns Abe not to do something, Abe does it, etc. While I appreciated the time spent to build character away from the fighting, its repetition drags the middle section down some. But the trademark Bekmambetov insane action sequences don’t disappoint– it’s the only film you’ll ever see in which a bad guy grabs a stampeding horse by the legs, throws it at the hero, knocking him down, yet the hero mounts the horse that just bombarded him in mid-crash, gets it upright, and starts riding it towards the villain. That alone may be worth the admission price. Special note: several frat guys came to this film just to laugh at it, nearly ruining the experience for everyone there. If you give this film a chance, there’s much to enjoy. If you don’t, stay home and don’t be a douche.
Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World:
I’m not convinced we’ll ever see a comedy about the apocalypse that *really* works. Maintaining consistent laughter in such a bleak atmosphere without making your characters one-dimensional seems nigh impossible to achieve. Seeking A Friend At The End Of The World tries for a while, and it contains some individually terrific scenes, but the jarring tonal shifts between the reality of doom setting in and the attempts at broad human farce cause the film to simply feel all over the place. There’s a fine line between finding the humor in the blissful ignorance of humanity and stepping over the line into caricature, and the script by Lorene Scafaria (who also wrote Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) dances all over that line from moment to moment. For the most part, I was lightly amused if not truly engaged, primarily because Carell and Knightley do terrific work in the lead roles, until the final half hour, when the film ditches the aspirations of comedy and dives headfirst into the dramatic deep end. Once it stopped trying to make me laugh, the film grabbed a hold of me– Carell does his finest dramatic work to date in this film’s conclusion. They managed to sell me on events that I never would’ve bought had the film tried to stay funny. Scafaria has a clear affinity for music between this and her previous work, and she knows how to find cinematic musical choices that tug the heartstrings without a feeling of forced manipulation. This is worth seeking out, if just for the chunks that work amongst the tonal mess.
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