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Films I Neglected To Review: Lei Lady Lei
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Aloha," "Poltergeist" and "Saint Laurent."

For several months now, "Aloha," the latest film from writer-director Cameron Crowe, has been the topic of a lot of gossip in the entertainment press thanks to its long gestation period (a version of it starring Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon was originally meant to be his follow-up to "Elizabethtown" before being scrapped due to scheduling conflicts), a postponement from its scheduled Christmas release date, a less-than-inspiring trailer that offered no concrete suggestion of what it was and its appearance in the Sony hacked e-mail scandal, where one of the top executives was revealed to have been bad-mouthing it. As a result, many observers may have already made the decision to simply write it off sight unseen in order to move on to the likes of "Entourage" and its ilk. This would be a sad mistake because while admittedly uneven and imperfect in parts, "Aloha" nevertheless has a gentle charm and good nature to it that is undeniably winning and which stands in marked contrast to the current glut of titles that are all but pummeling viewers into submission in their attempts to entertain.

Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a former military man turned private contractor whose career hit the skids a few years ago in a singularly messy fashion. Now his boss, goofball billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), has brought him back into the fold by bringing him to Hawaii, the site of his greatest triumphs, to help facilitate the launching of a valuable communications satellite by smoothing things out with both the U.S. military forces stationed on the island and the rightly suspicious locals. While taking care of his professional duties, Brian also unexpectedly finds himself caught between a couple of women as well--former flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams), whom he broke up with years before and who is now married to an uncommunicative military man (John Krasinski) and raising a family, and Alison (Emma Stone), his all-too-communicative military liaison whose forthright manner drives him first crazy and later to distraction as she opens his eyes to both the world around him and the unanswered questions surrounding Carson's satellite launch.

To be honest, "Aloha" does have its rough patches--the opening scenes are a little too ragged from a narrative standpoint for their own good, its main character is perhaps the hardest to like of any in Crowe's oeuvre (he gets there eventually but it takes a long time for that to finally happen) and every time Emma Stone's character reminds someone onscreen that she is supposed to be 1/4 Hawaiian, it only serves to remind everyone in the audience that she isn't. (This, by the way, is the only aspect of the film where the charges that the film shuffles the natives and their culture off to the sides in order to concentrate on the white people--beyond that, it shows far more interest and respect for the traditions and concerns of the native Hawaiians than, say, "The Descendants.") And yet, second-tier Crowe is still more interesting than the top-level efforts of many filmmakers working today and "Aloha" certainly proves that. Once the screenplay settles down, it proves to be an endearing mixture of romantic comedy and sincere drama that offers up echoes of the works of Billy Wilder (whom Crowe once did an interview book about) while simultaneously serving as a way for Crowe to process in artistic terms the bruising experience that surrounded the release of his deeply personal and wildly misunderstood "Elizabethtown." His touch with actors is as deft as always and the performances are solid across the board, whether they are the above-the-title stars or the lesser-known players (the virtually unknown Danielle Rose Russell, who plays McAdams' daughter, is especially fine in her final scene). The soundtrack, not surprisingly, is top-notch as well with its mix of unassailable classics (including The Who, the Stones and the hilarious deployment of Tears for Fears) with Hawaiian tunes that delve a little further than "Tiny Bubbles" or "I'll Remember You."

"Aloha" is that rarest of beasts--a major summer movie aimed at adults who do not require a special effects set-piece every ten minutes or so to keep them interested. It may be far from perfect but it has personality and if I had to choose between that and a technically flawless but more remote film, I would choose that any day of the week. It has a good heart, intelligence and wit going for it and you come out of it feeling at least slightly better than when you went in. It may not prove to be the endearing sleeper hit of the season that comes out of nowhere to win cynical audiences over but until that film does come along, it will do just fine.

"Poltergeist," on the other hand, may not prove to be the low point of the summer box-office derby (it beats "Hot Pursuit," for staters) but if there is a competition for the most unnecessary film of the season, it definitely deserves a place of prominence on the leader board. A beyond-superfluous remake of the 1982 classic that sucker-punched an entire generation that was lured into the theater expecting a cheerful fantasy thanks to the name of producer Steven Spielberg, only to get a seriously scary haunted house film that was all the more creepy for relocating the horrors on display to the suburban subdivisions where many of them probably lives, this film feels like a road company production rushing through the material as quickly as possible so that they can make their dinner reservations. All the familiar beats are there but are trotted out with no new ideas to speak of other than to make things bigger, dumber and more obvious than before. (While the original managed to frighten countless kids and more than a few adults with a single clown doll, this one literally drops a boxful of them into the proceedings.) Instead, the film is simply content to serve as a retread not only of the original but of all the haunted house films that have liberally borrowed from it over the years. (At one point, it goes full cinematic human centipede by ripping off the single money shot from "Poltergeist II.") All of the psychological underpinnings and socioeconomic commentary regarding our simmering uneasiness with modern technology has been stripped away and has been replaced with nothing other that distinctly unimpressive special effects and a generally wasted cast of decent actors (including Sam Rockwell, Rosmarie DeWitt and Jared Harris) who have been given nothing of interest to do. In other words, the "Poltergeist" curse continues on but this time around, it is the movie that dies long before its time.

In what must certainly be the oddest collision of cinema and couture since the near-simultaneous release of two Coco Chanel-related films a few years ago, now fewer than two full-scale biopics chronicling the life and work of famed designer Yves St. Laurent have been released within the last year. First out of the gate was the authorized "Yves Saint Laurent," a film that covered most of his life but never gave viewers much of a reason to look at him as anything other than an boorish bore with a gift for dressing women. "Saint Laurent," on the other hand, is at least a superficially more entertaining experience--without the designer's estate looking over his shoulder at every turn, director Bertrand Bonello is able to provide a slightly livelier moviegoing experience despite clocking in at 150 minutes. Unfortunately, he also fails to crack the nut that would allow us to both understand the man (played here by Gaspard Ulliel) and what it was about his designs that made them so revolutionary. Set mostly during the height of his fame, it chronicles his relationships with longtime lover/business partner Pierre Berge (Jeremie Renier), a model for rival designer Karl Lagerfeld (Louis Garrell) and models/muses Betty Catroux (Aymeline Valade) and Loulou (Lea Seydoux, whose appearance is of the blink-and-you-miss-it variety) and how ego, drugs and domestic strife threatens to bring down his entire empire. It sound juicy enough but it just never clicks into gear--it is like a dull Vanity Fair article that you keep plugging away at in the hopes that it will finally get interesting. Unless you have a keen desire to see what Helmut Berger looks like these days (he turns up at the end as the latter-day YSL for a few unnecessary scenes), you can easily leave "Saint Laurent" on the rack and wait for someone to try to do his story for a third time, presumably in a vehicle called "Yves."

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originally posted: 05/29/15 06:02:14
last updated: 05/29/15 08:19:00
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