TCFF 2014 Day 7: Romance Double Bill – Old Fashioned & Comet

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We’re on the final stretch of the film fest and Day 7 is one of the three busiest days for me, with back-to-back screenings. It’s been fun [and challenging too, I’m not gonna lie] wearing multiple hats as blogger/film critic/journalist the past few days. But I’m so grateful that everyone I’ve met so have have been so friendly and gracious, it’s really been quite an exhilarating experience and that’s why I keep blogging for the film fest!

So last Wednesday, I got to see one excellent documentary and two romance dramas of opposite spectrum. Speaking of documentaries, I will be combining all the doc reviews all in one post after TCFF wraps.


And here are the reviews from Day 7 …

Old Fashioned

The idea behind Old Fashioned may seem foreign to a lot people today (including to the filmmaker himself at some point), but depending on your world view, it’s certainly not an improbable notion. The title refers to an antique shop in a small Midwestern college town, owned by a former frat boy Clay Walsh (Rik Swartzwelder). One Autumn day, a young woman named Amber Hewson (Elizabeth Ann Roberts) happens to drive into the town. Apparently it’s [her] tradition that wherever her car runs out gas, that’ll be the town she’ll stay in, at least until she has to move again. And so she ends up renting an apartment right above Clay’s shop.

OldFashioned_AmberClay and Amber couldn’t be more different. Clay with his permanently-tousled blond hair is taciturn and a loner, whilst the beautiful Amber is free-spirited and outgoing. Sparks didn’t exactly fly in their first meeting, but there’s definitely a hint of attraction. As it turns out, Clay has pretty much been living a monk-like existence for the past nine years, much to Amber’s bafflement. When he comes up to her room to fix her broken stove, Clay insists that she stands outside the door with a blanket. “It’s not normal,” she balks at Clay’s unyielding rules and relational theories. Perhaps more out of curiosity than physical attraction, Amber sort of *pursues* Clay by continually breaking stuff in her apartment just so he’d have to come up to her apartment. Eventually Clay agrees to go out with her, but only if she agrees with his terms.

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I gotta admit that I think Clay is a bit extreme in his approach to relationships. In a way, Amber is kind of the voice of the audience as she asks the same thing we would if we were to meet someone like him. So as Amber discovers more about Clay – and vice versa – the film peels the layer of both of their past. Clay had spent his college days sowing his wild oats, whilst Amber had been traumatized by her past relationships that her first inclination is always to run away. For Clay, his heap amount of guilt pushes his ideological pendulum to swing so far the other way that he practically sabotages his own chance at true happiness. I like that the film didn’t paint the protagonist as some high & mighty hero who’s got everything figured out. Clay and Amber are flawed characters we can all identify with and the film shows just how fragile relationships can be without even mixing sexuality into it.

The film doesn’t shy away from the faith elements, showing scenes and conversation about Christianity and the Bible, but they’re not done in a preachy manner. In my conversation with writer/director/star Rik Swartzwelder, he mentioned that he wasn’t interested in a faith propaganda story, but he was inspired by people he knew whose stories become the concept for the film. And so the spirituality element is organic to the characters and intrinsic to the story.

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The film’s beautifully shot on location in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, by David George. There’s a rustic quality to the entire film, the whole vintage look is a nod to a bygone era, both literally and philosophically speaking. Most of the supporting cast feature local actors which adds to the authentic Midwestern sensibilities. My favorite is definitely Dorothy Silver as aunt Zella who’s been trying to get Clay to lighten up and let go of his guilt. LeJon Woods as Clay’s BFF is a lot of fun to watch as well, both of them are the comic relief of the film. But the revelatory star is definitely Elizabeth Ann Roberts who has an effortless screen charisma and sweet vulnerability about her that makes her perfect for the role. I’m glad Swartzwelder ended up casting her after months of searching, and Amber is truly the heart of the story. I think the characters are nicely fleshed out, though it’s a bit tough for to picture such a serene fellow like Clay that he was a reckless womanizer, as the film barely show flashbacks of their past.

The ending is perhaps too fairy-tale-ish, but I can’t help being swept-off my feet by the film’s undeniable charm. I can even forgive some of the schmaltzy moments that drag on a bit, so I think the 115-min running time could’ve been slightly trimmed down. Overall I’m impressed by Swartzwelder‘s feature film debut, it’s an enchanting romance drama I’d readily watch again.

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Comet

It’s interesting to see Old Fashioned and Comet back to back as both deal with romantic themes and both are feature film debuts from its respective directors. Their styles and approach to romance couldn’t be more different however.

Set in a parallel universe, the film bounces back and forth over the course of a couple’s six year’s relationship. Dell (Justin Long) and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) met as they were lining up for a meteor shower watch at a college campus. It’s kind of a quirky meet-cute, as Kimberly saves Dell from being hit by a car. It prompted Dell to ask Kimberly out right in front of her handsome date (Eric Winter). Dell is honest and verbose to a fault, saying everything that pops in his head unapologetically. The constant bantering is amusing and frustrating at the same time, and the film pretty much consist of monologues and conversations of the two leads.

Comet_EmmyRossum_JustinLongThe unconventional time jumps employed here feels a bit gimmicky at times, though fortunately I don’t find it as confusing as I thought I would. The bantering alternates turns to bickering and a screaming match in certain period of their lives, and both actors perform their roles wonderfully. Emmy Rossum impressed me in her stunning performance in The Phantom Of The Opera a decade ago, she barely aged a day it seems. Justin Long shows that he certainly has range, and his dramatic performance here is as convincing as his goofy, comedic side. They’re both very natural and believable in their roles, and to me that’s the strength of the film to keep me engaged.

The film plays with meta theory of dream vs reality but yet never quite shifts into sci-fi fantasy mode. I have to say though, the overly-stylized way the film is shot, with its transition and fancy camera angles, feels experimental to me. I’m not saying I didn’t like it, in fact I think the film’s cinematography is gorgeous. But at times it just feels a bit indulgent, it’s as if Sam Esmail is showing off his directing chops when a less edgier style would perhaps work just as well here. The ending also ends abruptly and though I don’t mind open-ended stories, this one just felt half-baked to me. It also doesn’t help that I simply couldn’t connect with any of the characters.

Still, I think the concept is interesting, which makes me wonder why this film was barely promoted by the studio. I mean there’s not even a trailer out yet even though it’s supposedly out in December, and even images of the film is scarce. I’d say it’s worth a rent if you like the cast and in the mood of an unconventional indie rom-com.

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Check out FlixChatter’s exclusive interview w/ Rik Swartzwelder, Writer/Director/Star of ‘Old Fashioned’ discussing the story origin of his film, casting process and going against Fifty Shades of Grey next year.


Have you seen any of these films? Would love to hear what you think!

New Releases Reviews: A Good Day to Die Hard and Beautiful Creatures

Happy President’s Day! I’m blessed that I get a day off today, woo hoo. Nobody likes Mondays so it’s always nice to get Monday off 😀

I’ll reserve my weekend roundup until tomorrow, but instead I’ve got a couple of new release movies for you. Perhaps those of you who get today off are considering to see either one of these. Are they worth a watch? Well, read on.

A Good Day to Die Hard

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Well, where do I start? If only the studio and everyone involved take the film’s title to heart and put a bullet right in its head and kill this franchise once and for all!

I’m actually a big fan of the Die Hard franchise mind you, Bruce Willis is always fun to watch as the reluctant action hero. The first three Die Hard are fun to watch, and I even like the fourth one (despite the silly Justin Long casting) and the internet-terrorism theme was quite timely. Now this time, our wisecrackin’ John McClane travels to Russia on a mission to save his estranged son. John hasn’t even made it to his hotel yet from the airport and he soon gets caught in a building explosion and shoot out. It turns out the rebellious Jack McClane is a CIA operative who’s on a mission to prevent a nuclear-weapon heist from happening. The plot involving a high-ranking Russian politician Viktor and a government whistle-blower Yuri (I’m surprised neither one is named Ivan!) is really stretched thin, as the movie is far more concerned with explosions and shoot-em-ups.

You know how young boys like to crash their match cars and destroy things? Well I feel like watching an 8-year-old boy playing with his toys here, except that the boy here (director John Moore) was given close to $100 mil worth of playthings to smash as he pleased. Within the first twenty minutes there’s a huge explosion, guns blazing like there’s no tomorrow, followed by a relentless car chase that never seem to end. I haven’t seen sooo many cars being smashed, crushed, mangled so much so quickly. At first I was laughing at its inherent preposterous-ness but the amusement doesn’t last long. All the deafening clanging and bullets wheezing grow more and more tedious by the minute and I’m afraid not even Bruce Willis self-satisfied smirk can’t save this movie.

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It certainly doesn’t help that Jai Courtney has zero charisma and the father/son dynamic between him and Willis are ridiculously lame. Forget ‘under developed,’ as the screenwriter never even bothered to make any effort to imbue any sense of wit or fun in their dialog. Willis’ usually amusing wisecracks are frustratingly repetitive as he keeps saying over and over again that he’s on vacation. It’s just so stupid as John wasn’t really on vacation as the reason he went to Moscow was to get his son back. Even his famous ‘yippikayay’ line was so uninspired and was delivered kind of under his breath that some people around me didn’t even realize he even said it. Poor Mary Elizabeth Winstead was completely wasted as McClane’s daughter, but did she even read the script??

Now, I have to give it to Willis that at the age of 57 he still looks good enough to run around, jump, leap from tall buildings and blazing semi-automatic weapons at bad guys. But it’s getting to be a bore to see him playing himself over and over again. I can’t even tell the difference between his role here and in RED, yet another action franchise that’s fun initially but will likely overstay its welcome.

I get it that a certain ‘suspension of disbelief’ and escapism is to be expected from a Die Hard movie, but I think this one fly waaay past my tolerable threshold. Seriously, the McClane duo are apparently made of rubber as no matter how far down they fall or how hard they smash into things, they both manage to come out unscathed with not even a twisted ankle!!

Director John Moore hasn’t directed anything since 2008, which was the equally dreadful Max Payne (funny that they both got 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). I sure hope he takes a much, much longer directing hiatus after this one for all our sakes. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this tired franchise as it once again tops box office! 😦

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Beautiful Creatures

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When I first saw the trailer of this film, the first thing that came to my mind is ‘oh not another Twilight!!’ Here’s another supernatural teen romance based on a popular young adult novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and of course they’re trying to capitalize on the Valentine’s Day weekend to suck lure young audiences in.

Instead of a rainy small town on the West Coast, this time we’re taken to a small town in South Carolina called Gatlin where there are “twelve churches, one library and no Starbucks.” That’s what narrator Ethan Wate tells us as the film opens. Ethan is a 16-year-old cool kid who likes to read ‘banned books’ and he’s been having a recurring dream that torments him. Suddenly there’s a new schoolgirl in town, a gloomy 15-year-old Lena Duchannes, known as the niece of the reclusive Macon Ravenwood whose family line been living in that town for centuries. Ethan immediately takes a shine to the new girl who reminds her of the girl in his dreams, and soon learns that she’s a witch, or ‘Caster’ as her family prefers to call it. Well everyone in school finds out who she was the day she uses magic to shatter the glass window of their classroom when she was bullied. It turns out that the reason for Lena’s angst (beyond the typical teen angst that is), is that on her sixteenth birthday, she will be claimed for either Light or Dark. The whole film largely focuses on how Ethan could save Lena from going Dark and also figure out how he is connected to her.

Good thing I read Wikipedia before I went to the screening, so at least I know just who the heck are Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson playing in this movie, as those two are the main draw for me in seeing this. Well, Irons plays the debonair-looking Macon whilst Thompson was in scenery-chewing mood the entire time — complete with her amusing Southern accent — as Serafine, Lena’s mother who’s an all-powerful Caster but takes the form of Mrs. Lincoln, the mother of Ethan’s BFF. Viola Davis also has a small but important part as Ethan’s governess of sort who’s a seer who can communicate with the dead. Emmy Rossum on the other hand, seemed to have too much fun with her role as the rebellious Ridley, Lena’s cousin who’s turned Dark for some time, that she overacted in most of her scenes.

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Now, I find the whole black magic stuff quite repulsive, not to mention baffling as so many things just don’t add up. Not having read the books, I’m willing to wager that there are perhaps more depth in them than what’s depicted on film. But that’s just speculation, I’m not that interested in this story to ever find that out. Thankfully, the movie is not devoid of some wit and humor, albeit some of them are quite campy. Director Richard LaGravenese (who also co-wrote the script) infuse some comical aspects into the characters and there are some references to some famous works like To Kill A Mockingbird that I find quite amusing. Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan is actually quite likable and nowhere near as morose or vapid as any of the Twilight boys, though he also likes to stare creepily at the girl he fancies quite a bit (is that what teenagers do these days?? I wouldn’t know). Australian Alice Englert (apparently she’s director Jane Campion’s daughter) could’ve been more captivating as Lena, but at least she doesn’t annoy the heck out of me.

Though I enjoy some of the performances and the beautiful Gothic set pieces and cinematography (the snow scene is quite lovely), I feel that the word I use to describe this movie is laborious. The long drawn-out exposition threatens to grind the movie to a halt by over-explaining things instead of focusing on crafting a love story worth caring for. The young actors have decent chemistry, but their relationship descend too much into melodrama and insipid melancholy. I think the more mature actors are having more fun in this, especially Emma and Emmy, relishing on the chance of being oh so evil.

Overall, I don’t find this adaptation would appeal much to those outside of the young adult demographic. There is a good message of sacrificial love at the end of the film, which I thought is quite refreshing to see. But unfortunately it was soon dampened by an eye-roll inducing cliffhanger finale set up for an inevitable sequel. Heh, I guess it’s too much to ask these days to just have one good movie, but no, the studio seems set to give us (I’m going to use the dreadful words again) sequels that overstay its welcome [sigh]

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Have you seen either one of these films? Well, what did YOU think?

Random Thoughts: Whatever happened to Emmy Rossum?

I was just browsing IMDb and noticed it’s Emmy Rossum’s birthday today. I can’t help wondering whatever happened to this once promising young actress. Her first major role is in Phantom of the Opera as Christine, and she was actually nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. Believe it or not, in between moments of being mesmerized by Gerry Butler’s Phantom :), I actually noticed her smashing performance and wonderful singing voice. I was floored to learn she was only 16 when she was got the role (half Butler’s age) as Joel Schumacher wanted a youthful cast for his POTO adaptation. For someone so young she was able to portray both the innocence of an Opera ingenue and the sensuous object of the musical genius’ affection, and judging from this screen test, it’s obvious she is a talented young lady with lots of potential:

But then I realized she hasn’t been in anything prominent since Poseidon back in 2006, whilst she did both Phantom and The Day After Tomorrow in 2004. I kind of forgot about her and seems like she’s sort of disappeared from acting?? I did notice her in magazines’ fashion section once in a while but that’s about it. Not sure what’s happened to her and I don’t really have any theory of my own, I just want to reminisce a bit on how good she was as Christine and how well she portrayed that iconic role in a young age.

Well, what do you think of Emmy? Or have you ever felt the same way about another actor whose performance impressed you but then suddenly, poof, you never see them in anything else since?