(On TV, December 2016) I’m hardly the only one to have noticed that the so-called romantic comedy genre fractured and exploded sometime around 2010, replaced by a multiplicity of takes upon romantic comedy that escaped the asphyxiating constraints of the previous monolithic genre. Films much like One Day, playing both stylistically and thematically with issues far more complicated than the “meet-cute; infatuation; complications; big finale; happily-ever-after” schematic formula that romantic comedies had settled into. One Day takes place over 18 years, skipping ahead for a day from one year to another as our two characters (Anne Hathaway, in her not-annoying phase, and still-featureless Jim Sturgess) nearly get together for a long time. It teases, it plays, it tears its characters apart for no better reason that it’s not quite done with them. Adapted from a book (which seems to be a near-constant in the neo-romance genre), it’s complex, takes place over a lengthier period of time, deals with a wider spectrum of emotions and isn’t necessarily as crazily upbeat as the classic rom-com genre. Similar examples include Dear John, Love, Rosie and others. One Day isn’t particularly memorable—some development are telegraphed well in advance, the film twists and turns too much to become a cultural reference and the bittersweet nature of its ending is unlikely to make it any lifelong fans. But it’s watchable enough … even if you don’t try to make it an integral part of a grand rom-com unifying theory.
(On Cable TV, April 2016) There isn’t much in Stonehearst Asylum that’s startlingly new, but the result is well executed enough to make anyone wonder why the film hasn’t received more attention. As is usual with nearly all movies revolving around an asylum, the question of who’s sane and who isn’t weighs heavily on the plot—and seeing Ben Kingsley in a role similar to the one he played in Shutter Island doesn’t do this film any favour. There is a bit of a plodding rhythm to the movie, with a second half that seems a bit empty once the film’s Big Revelation is explained a third of the way through. (There is another Big Revelation toward the end, but it feels almost meaningless.) Still, what makes Stonehearst Asylum so interesting as an unassuming late-night cable-TV discovery is polish and atmosphere. The surprisingly good cast helps: Alongside an always-effective Kingsley, we get Michael Caine in a smaller part than expected, Kate Beckinsale looking pleasantly glamorous despite being in an asylum, David Thewlis playing the heavy and Jim Sturgess as the everyman protagonist doing his best to avoid overshadowing nearly everyone else. The 1899/1900 period setting is effectively rendered by Brad Anderson’s direction, the Victorian-era asylums offering plenty of opportunities for atmospheric visuals. The cinematography is clean and crisp, adding to the visual polish of a thriller than may not be exceptionally thrilling, but certainly has an appeal of its own. It wouldn’t be helpful to expect too much from Stonehearst Asylum: The film runs on low-grade thrills compared to some similar movies. But it plays much better than expected from a film that was a commercial failure and practically went straight to video.
(Video on Demand, July 2013) As a seasoned Science Fiction fan, I rarely have trouble with suspension of disbelief: if a film has an outrageous premise, I’m usually more than willing to grant it immunity from nitpicking. But I have my limits, and Upside Down reached them in about thirty seconds with a triad of absurdly made-up rules about its invented universe. I’m good with the idea of dual worlds facing themselves; I’m even willing to allow that objects from one world can only gravitate to that world. But having stuff from opposite worlds catch on fire when held too long against each other? That’s arbitrary to the point of ludicrousness, and things don’t improve once the film starts developing the world it sketches with its three opening statements: We’re supposed to believe in socioeconomic exploitation of one world by another when matter from one world can’t even enter in contact with the other one. (Hint: political allegory doesn’t work if the underlying metaphor doesn’t.) The longer and the more detailed Upside Down goes on, the more ludicrous it becomes. Now, a reasonable objection to this may be that the film is supposed to be a fable about two ill-fated lovers, and that’s true. The problem is that the story itself is so well-worn and bare-bones as to leave plenty of time for world-building contemplation, with terrible results: the film feels artificial to a degree that even its spectacular visuals can’t overcome, and all of its wit in the presentation of its worlds can’t really compensate for the inanity of its premise. Writer/director Juan Solanas has a good eye for arresting images, but the whole justification for them just isn’t satisfying. It doesn’t help that Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess are blander-than-bland as the romantic leads. As much as I’d like to be kind about a Franco-Canadian film shot in Montréal (and even featuring remarkable local actors such as Holly O’Brien), there isn’t enough to Upside Down to earn more than a recommendation based on pure visuals. The story isn’t there, and the premise simply doesn’t work.