Sunday, October 11, 2009

CIFF 09: Lovely, Still

Not so very long ago, I was dipping my toe into the eddying waters of Oscar prognostication, at which time I opined that if the infamously unpurchased Lovely, Still ever scores a U.S. distribution deal, then Martin Landau or Ellen Burstyn or both might gratifyingly add to their career tallies of Academy nods. (It would be his fourth and her seventh.) That conjecture was based entirely on second- and third-hand reports on screenings from Toronto '08, but now that I've seen the movie, I feel that I can go on record that Landau and Burstyn probably wouldn't be nominated even if it were 1996 and Harvey Weinstein opened the movie on Christmas Day. The actors are fine but the movie starts out frustratingly slight and inelegant and then slides precipitously into something that actually galled me, and not in that Inglourious Basterds sense of prodigious but diabolically misplaced gifts. I explain what I mean in this full review, but I do hope that Martin and Ellen get other tries at front-and-center parts before they fully retire from the screen. Meanwhile, I'm embarrassed at myself for letting not just Oscar hype, but potential Oscar hype for a movie that hasn't even been bought yet goad me into watching something this amateurish and finally dishonest, when I could have set my sights somewhere else.

You can't win 'em all, but thankfully you can win some of 'em—and after seeing about twice as many CIFF movies as I've admitted so far, I've still seen more good eggs than toss-outs. Keep watching this space!

Lovely, Still plays on Saturday 10/17. Martin Landau plans to attend, so even if you're as disappointed by this new film as I was—and, obviously, you might not be—it would still be a kick to ask him about Bela Lugosi, Cary Grant, and Crimes and Misdemeanors.

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16 Comments:

Blogger Cal said...

Aww... this is so disappointing :-(

6:34 AM, October 11, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Believe me, I agree. I realize this review has a bit of a nasty edge, but I really did feel let down--not about the Oscar stuff, but about the prospect of what these actors might have been able to bring off in steadier circumstances.

11:10 AM, October 11, 2009  
Blogger Guy said...

Funny, I thought this smelled funny BEFORE Toronto last year, upon which the reviews made me wonder if I had the wrong end of the stick. Your review, however, describes exactly the film I initially imagined. Now, should it ever come out, I can avoid it with a clear conscience. Thank you!

12:13 PM, October 11, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Well, you have a better nose than I do, though I can't help pining for what might have been with these two actors—even in a vehicle much like this one, if it were gentler and wiser about its surrounding characters and relieved of its over-weening impulse to confound expectations and otherwise call attention to itself.

11:47 PM, October 11, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just saw this movie tonight and thought it was excellent, much better than most of the mainstream Hollywood trash that pervades the marketplace.

By the way, who are you to be this critical of someone's artistic effort? What credentials do you have to be taken as a serious film critic?

Do you have any artistic talent or is your sole contribution to cinema being critical of others?

12:23 AM, November 11, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

I hope it's obvious that I think everyone is entitled to her or his own opinion. You're asking about credentials, and I'll tell you, but I don't want to fall into the trap of sounding like, "This is why I must be right!"

Since you ask, I have a Ph.D. in English and Film & Video studies, I see over 100 new theatrical releases every year from all around the world, I've been publishing reviews for different audiences for over a decade, and I read film history, watch older generations of movies, and learn from other people's opinions pretty much all the time. So, that's where I'm coming from, and I feel like I've paid enough dues that I'm not just making stuff up as I go along, though again, I'm the last person to pretend to be infallible.

Based on the criteria of what counts to me as good filmmaking, I thought Lovely, Still was really annoyingly awful (as you already know). I'd love to hear a detailed defense of the movie, because I might well learn from it, or think about it from a new angle. I hope you won't mind me observing that, by posting anonymously, and by withholding any detail about your own positive response to the film, you're hiding your "credentials" and opting instead for criticizing others instead of offering your own detailed opinion--not much different from what you're mad at me for doing, but with even less for me to go on to figure out why you reacted to Lovely, Still the way you did. Is there any more you want to add?

12:45 AM, November 11, 2009  
Anonymous Brent said...

I, despite your review, saw this movie in Omaha last night. I agree that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. I myself thought the movie was excellent. It was pure, simple, and moving. So much the opposite of the crap that comes out of Hollywood these days. I respect the fact that you have all of these "credentials", but in my opinion whether or not a movie is good or not is purly subjective. I agree and disagree with friends and critics about the quality of movies all the time. This movie has been given great reviews as well as poor ones. I guess I am glad I don't make my living reviewing movies, your job is a joke.

9:23 PM, November 13, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Brent: This website is not my "job," but if it were, I don't think it would be a joke, and I wouldn't understand why you would say so.

That said, it's hard for me to connect adjectives like "pure" and "simple" to Lovely, Still. If the movie were either of those things, (SPOILER) why would the writer-director have built in this entire, show-offy, implausible, elaborately filmed "twist" of the characters' past relationships, when the "pure" and "simple" way to go would undoubtedly to have watched events as they happen with all of the immediate drama of knowing how complex and delicate and hurtful this situation is, instead of the trumped-up drama of the filmmaker playing, "Gotcha!" in a way that makes absolutely no sense.

10:38 AM, November 14, 2009  
Anonymous jim said...

Hi Nick,
I'm from Omaha too and saw the movie a few weeks ago when it played locally for one week.It's been my experience that people in my city will love and defend any movie made there no matter the quality of the film ("April Showers" for example). That said, I think your review is too generous. I was totally flabergasted by the film; it's a "trick" movie, similar to "Memento" or "the Sixth Sense." After the twist is revealed, the movie doesn't hold up when one goes back and thinks about the first hour. SPOILER ALERT. I never believed that a lonely old man would wrap a gun up as a Xmas present and give it to himself as a present on Christmas day...and, if he had alzheimer's, how could he? I never believed that his boss (who is really his son), would address his father as "Robert," or that Robert's house doesn't exist and is all in his head (I guess...I never figured this part out). Of course, there are many other things that don't hold together in the film. In short, a movie simply can't start off like a Hallmark Christmas card (with barely a story) and end like "Requiem For a Dream." Besides the obvious script problems, I think the very concept of this film is questionable; it was written by a 17yo kid who imagined what being an old person must be like. The truth is the movie doesn't work, and it wouldn't be playing in major festivals if Martin Landau (a co-producer on the film) wasn't attending each screening in person.
I don't see this doing well theatrically in the future, but there might be an audience for it on dvd...or on t.v. the film reminded me of those Hallmark hall of Fame Xmas movies that used to star Jessica Tandy and her husband.
Finally, I found your site by accident and really enjoy it - keep up the good work!

12:38 PM, November 19, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Jim: Music to my ears! I wasn't kidding when I said above that obviously everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it's still very validating to know that I'm not alone. As you already gathered, I share your thoughts exactly, but thanks so much for chiming in, and for the compliments on the site.

12:49 PM, November 19, 2009  
Blogger wle said...

yep
it was awful
dumb and sappy for 70 minutes
then just unexplainably bad
then the first 70 minutes don;t make sense
you can;t even figure out why or how it was supposed to have happened, or even what they were trying to do

why did he live across the street?

what was the wife trying to do? relive the past?

was it all a red and blue blur dream?

whose dream?

@Q#Q$@#$!@!!

i want that 90 minutes back!

seriously

awful

wle

9:14 AM, December 05, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darn background music was too loud and I could not understand what was being said half the time. The acting was good, but I did not enjoy the movie...

7:42 AM, December 12, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to like this movie, but the opening music told me that the road ahead was going to be dangerous. The ominous music and the swirling "tangles" interspersed through the movie were patently obvious clues marching us forcibly toward a dark side ending. I found myself simply waiting for the dementia to manifest itself and the chaos to begin The plot was confusing with its syrupy and illogical love story and the eventual tragic twist, totally lacking subtlety, intelligence or rationality. It is hard to believe that actors with the many years of experience that Landau and Burstyn have between them were a part of making this contrived, amateurish mess of a movie.

11:11 PM, February 08, 2011  
Anonymous nyc_flux said...

Anonymous...you ignorant slut!" is best rebutted with "NicksFlickPicks, you pompous ass!"

Despite your “point/counterpoint” blitherings, the movie has excellent stability –both in story and acting. Kudos to the 23-year old writer who can depict the meaningful aspects of LOVE AND COMMITMENT through the vehicle of a functional family. The proof of a good movie for me lies in the fact that I am thinking about it the following day and wanting to discuss it with others -and lovely,still kept up this emotional and intellectual momentum. I saw it on dvd at a friend’s house over the past Valentine’s Day weekend… and continued reflecting on scenes from the movie for a few days.
I particularly liked Martin Landau’s depiction of a man seemingly stuck in a Groundhog Day scenario (clock rings/wake up/bathroom duties). His mannerisms and in particular, his facial expressions reminded me of many true-to-life elderly people I served as a borsht-belt waiter. As Robert’s monotony was gradually morphed into a “something’s not right” scenario –it kept me guessing at the ending (which I did, as soon as the little girl called him “Robert” and ran away crying). Nonetheless, the unavoidable disintegration was welcome and true to life (I had a similar situation with my mother’s dementia and could identify with Robert’s unavoidable relapse without meds). What I didn’t like was the unresolved questions hanging around the hospital bed scene: Will he die? Will he get better? Will the whole fantasy have to be repeated?
I’m headed for 63… maybe that’s why I’m in the minority of people who like this movie.

So just add me to the ignorant slut, pompous ass list as… a geriatric grunt.

11:40 AM, February 16, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did he die? Please tell me, I can figure out the movie is the way he sees it in his head until the end, I think. I liked it, it has stayed with me but I do wish I understood it better. Really would like to know if he died.

5:49 PM, May 16, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The movie was a surprise, and hauntingly familiar near the end. The confusion and trauma, living through it with my mother-in-law, seeing her struggle to remember, and knowing she did not. Perhaps you need "to be there" to appreciate that life doesn't always make sense. And yet we fight to love and "never give up".

7:52 PM, July 27, 2012  

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