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IR Television Review: MODERN LOVE [Amazon]

The essence of the romantic drama/comedy per se has been lost in recent years because of the disappearance of the mid-range picture. As a result, many of the wonderful character work actors can do without special effects sometimes can be lost. Often with most television as well, the writers are trying to get to the next narrative beat which is not wrong but sometimes sacrifices characters on the part of the story. That is why “Modern Love” throughout its entire 8 episode first season is so refreshing. It is unique and heartfelt stories but each, in their own way, uniquely theirs.

From the first episode about a girl alone in the city that shows her time through personal hardship with the help of simple love, , though platonic of her doorman, the episodes are poignant, perhaps schmaltzy but not overly so. It maintains the balance that “Maisel” does without the need to push her forward. These people’s lives are their own, tragic and beautiful though they may be.

Because the actors don’t have to be in all the episodes, it allows some great film actors who might not indulge in TV or simply like the idea of small ditty to shine. Actors like Sofia Boutella, and Caitlin McGee really shine as the series really gets the idea of missed opportunities but also the messiness of human behavior right without resulting overly on violence or sex as part of the storyline.

For example, Boutella’s segment in an interesting ramification on the notion of who she is and coming to terms with it in a simple way but it undeniably works in terms of the guy she unavoidably spends the night with. Dev Patel’s segment which also stars Catherine Keener as well as bits with Caitin McGee and Andy Garcia is one of the most poignant and some of the best understated acting all of them have done in years. Many of the other stories follow suit but the fact that many of them are based on a series of stories in the New York Times and by extension are all NY stories make it even more textured.

There are a million stories like that in the city, with undeniably many more to be told. Not all are conventional but all seem to hit interesting notes of reflection and dexterity without being too indicative of a message. Anne Hathaway’s segment seems tailor made for her and a little more fantastical than the others but its story and the way it is told lets her get closer the drama she could do but perhaps the breath is not there. Interstellar got her close but there was no comedy in there. She is able to show the highs and the lows in this character which is beautiful in so many ways.

The essence of marriage is explored in the segment starring John Slattery and Tina Fey. What makes this one sing is because they each have such a dynamic connection to NY, he with Mad Men, her with 30 Rock and SNL, that the essence of marriage falling away in a way in the heart of NY city and the isolation that you get from her, again shows what a show like this can allow certain people to do.

Later segments have a tome about daddy issues but also surrogate motherhood which require a little more narrative control so the ideas are more complex yet still shine in the end. If the first couple eps hook you then you are good to go. The progression of life is a big theme in the series especially how it comes to an end the first season. Love Actually is in many ways a good parallel because it is all brought together not because it needs to but it is that these people all exist in the same reality but only separated by blocks and social and work circles.

The opening credits says it all. Any good opening if done well can hook but this promotes nostalgia but also a sense of reality in the best way possible with a great location and inherent soulful acting to boot.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: THE HUSTLE [MGM]

The motivation of “The Hustle” is based in the texture of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” which was a film in the late 80s starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. While the tropes it played are a little out of date and less politically correct now, the re-imagining from the point-of-view of female grifters is a sound one. Spearheaded likely by Rebel Wilson against the foil of the more sophisticated Anne Hathaway, the aspect of one upping keys in the play but the tonal element is tricky. Wilson flails a lot in her performance whereas some comediennes can make it a little more fluid. She seems like she is trying too hard. But then again there is a small texture of that in Anne’s performance though when she gets frustrated with Rebel’s less accomplished con woman is when her true acting shines.

The key in this kind of comedy is obviously the heart and how it shines through without being too melodramatic. To Rebel’s credit, this starts to shine towards the end of the film simply because of the progression of story. The contrast though is too stark. Hathaway is good at this and gets to show her continual mastery of accents but it never rises truly to the level it could. This might inherently also be the fault of the directing. The film, despite being entertaining at times, feels slightly scattershot despite the beautiful surroundings. Hathaway’s employees truly get the performances right which is more a European structure of comedy in the fact that it is slightly underplayed but with a definite hit. This is where the diverge lies. The eventual revolution in a mark is expected but plays almost against the realization because it skirts the idea of the status quo. That said, “The Hustle” doesn’t necessarily want to be anything more but, as it is, it does its job plainly.

C-

By Tim Wassberg

IR BD Review: SERENITY [Aviron/Universal Studios Home Entertainment]

When “Serenity” was released earlier in the year, the essence of the cast and what seemed to be a noir structure gave it definite want-to-see possibility. Matthew McConaughey’s choices are always divisive but he has a certain idea of almost existential progression in most of his roles. The idea for example of making “Sea of Trees” or “Free State Of Jones” perceives to this thematic structure of his work. This film is no different though its blend of high concept and locale might be too much for some viewers to take or give patience to. With a director like Steven Knight, known for “Peaky Blinders”, the blend does have possibility but this is not Christopher Nolan or “Interstellar” for that matter. The comparison obviously moves in play since Anne Hathaway is a catalyst of sorts here as well as she was in that previous movie though in a different structure. The vamp structure she employs here might be a function of not just the plot but the rules that are set forth in the narrative. This blend of what motivates characters and indeed what their ultimate goals are is an interesting quandary within the story.

The film was shot on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean off of South Africa so the locale has an otherworldly quality in that the viewer almost can’t place where it is. Many of the characters are caricatures in this way but again that is a function of the plot without giving anything away. In selling a movie, subtlety and the way a film unfolds is much more criticized than ever before which made this specific release even tougher.

What “Serenity” does have is almost an 80s genre twist while similarly on a restrictive budget but with decent or at least recognizable stars. Diane Lane plays a character that is almost a piggy bank at times for McConuaghney’s Dell. Again when it all is said and done…her character makes sense within the structure even if it is light. Dijmon Honsou who also starred with McConaughey in Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” also plays a structural part in the idea. He becomes a voice of reason but also one that unbalances the motivation. Again a specific notion of the plot. Even Jason Clarke as the baddie per se, has a specific arch that is meant as a commentary on what the underlying structure of the story actually is.

Towards the end, the breakdown of exposition might have been too much for audiences to handle because, while it is an intriguing idea, the dialogue, even though it is meant to be stilted at times, overplays its idea. The exposition, in addition, tries too hard even though there are holes in motivation and plot which are too glaring to ignore. Also, some of the sequences and the imagery, especially the jump cuts and McConaughey’s venture through water, may be symbolic but mostly function flat. In terms of technical, the transfer brings out the beauty of the location but the slipshod nature of some of the visual effects takes away from some of the power certain sequences could have had. There are no additional material on the disc, so the movie simply functions on its possibilities which may in time form an idea of one of those genre movies that tried but didn’t quite connect. However it might be one that will be revisited in years to come.

C+

By Tim Wassberg

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