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“Loveless,” Reviewed

“Loveless,” Reviewed (photo)

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Whereas most men would refrain from approaching a woman he just saw pulling the hair of another in a bar, Andrew (Andrew von Urtz) walks towards her. It isn’t the first clue in Ramin Serry’s comedy “Loveless” that something is amiss about Andrew, though it is the clearest indication of what’s kept him without obligations of any kind other than a desk job he hates as he nears middle age. He’s also an aspiring filmmaker who uses the promise of his script to bait women into putting up with his advances and projects a certain urbaneness even if he’s utterly unhip.

Like the two women who do find themselves attracted to Andrew during the course of “Loveless,” one’s appreciation of the film may hinge on your tolerance of its central character’s dry wit and lack of ambition, not only since you’re spending 96 minutes in his company, but from storytelling perspective, form and function are largely the same thing. Which isn’t to say “Loveless” isn’t ambitious – just the opposite, in fact, since it is hardly as easy as it looks to make a film as comfortable in its own skin as Serry’s is.

The plot points, such as they are, revolve around Andrew’s handling of Ava (Genevieve Hudson-Price), the irrational younger woman he meets mid-fight at the bar, and Joanna (Cindy Chastain), an ex-girlfriend his own age who rekindles their relationship while trying to find financing for his film. There is some dramatic tension to be mined from questions of whether the love triangle will be resolved or whether Andrew will ever get to make his film, yet the film is largely driven by what Serry is able to find in the nooks and crannies of Andrew’s personality, which is oddly confident despite any signs of success.

Somehow, it wasn’t surprising to learn later that the film’s production style – including a cast made up of mostly nonprofessional actors (save for a brilliantly loony Scott Cohen as Ava’s obsessive big brother) and a setting mostly in the filmmaker’s own apartment – was largely inspired by “Beeswax” writer/director Andrew Bujalski, whose gift has been to put authenticity first while always finding the humor and narrative along the way. “Loveless” is actually a little more strident in those latter two categories, but rarely feels forced, even when it involves Ava’s family’s funny (and creepy) tendency to talk aloud to their dead patriarch before making major decisions. That Serry occasionally shows up on screen as a friend of Andrew’s usually pushing a stroller or holding a baby is a fair analogy for the film itself, given the amount of care that’s put into it. Unlike Andrew, “Loveless” is able to have it all.

“Loveless” is now open in New York.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

“Cedar Rapids,” Reviewed

“Cedar Rapids,” Reviewed (photo)

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The talent level in “Cedar Rapids”‘ is all out of proportion to the quality of the material. The screenplay is thoroughly forgettable but just listen to this cast: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawkat, and Sigourney Weaver. Their director is Miguel Arteta, who made the supremely squirmy “Chuck & Buck” and last year’s underrated Michael Cera vehicle “Youth in Revolt.” How did so many wonderful actors and a smart filmmaker all wind up attached to such a nothing script? This is clearly a low budget film. They’re not doing it for the paycheck. Do they all share the same agent or something?

Helms stars as Tim Lippe, a naïve insurance salesman from Brown Valley, Wisconsin. After Tim’s firm’s star salesman dies, he’s sent to replace him at an important insurance convention in Cedar Rapids. Tim’s boss BIll (Root) needs him to win the coveted “2 Diamonds Award” for outstanding insurance company, but Tim is totally unprepared for this assignment. He’s never left Brown Valley, much less flown on an airplane, much less been to a big bad city like Cedar Rapids. So he’ll need to bear down. That means focusing on his work and avoiding infamous convention wild man Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) at all costs.

BIll warns Tim to avoid the hard-partying Dean, so naturally a plot contrivance makes them roommates instead. And thank goodness it does because Reilly immediately brightens a heretofore bland movie with his live-wire presence. His Dean is pure irrepressible id, the perfect devil on the shoulder for a guy like Tim, who’s lived his whole life by a code of asceticism you usually only see practiced by clergymen and solitary astronauts on decades-long expeditions to the Planet of the Apes. Arteta also used Reilly to equally good effect in his 2002 film “The Good Girl.” In both cases he plays the role of the character too charming to be despicable. The funniest moment in “Cedar Rapids” isn’t provided by a witty joke or a clever line of dialogue. It’s a look Reilly gives when he’s caught by someone with a trashcan lid on his head. This guy doesn’t just steal the movie; he rips it off and pirates it on the Internet.

“Cedar Rapids”‘ corporate satire isn’t especially sharp, but the mood throughout is consistently warm and likable. Helms makes Tim’s extreme innocence charming (if not especially hilarious) and, just like in “The Hangover,” he remains the sort of nerdy actor audiences enjoy watching get defiled. Anne Heche is the one in charge of most of the defiling, as another conventioneer who pals around with Dean and third roommate Ronald (Whitlock Jr.) and takes a liking to the new kid on the block. Heche’s good too; charming, flirty, and casual. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed her in a movie this much.

The quest for the 2 Diamonds Award bogs “Cedar Rapids” down with way too many plot twists and character reversals. There’s also a really egregious hooker with a heart of gold who’s also wise beyond her years and gets to enunciate the film’s big point (“We’re all just selling…”). The film is at its best at its simplest, when it gets out of its own way and just lets us endure this very tiresome corporate retreat’s bizarre customs and rituals with that core four — Helms, Heche, Whitlock Jr., and especially Reilly. I’m still not entirely sure what these folks saw in “Cedar Rapids.” Maybe it was just an opportunity to work together. In that sense, they made the most of it.

“Poetry,” Reviewed

“Poetry,” Reviewed (photo)

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I’ve never been a big fan of poetry. I don’t get much out of reading it and Lord knows I ain’t no good at writing nothing poetical (NOTE: I may be exaggerating slightly for comedic effect). So I can relate to Mija, the subject of Korean director Lee Chang-dong’s beautiful new film “Poetry.” A grandmother in her mid-60s, Mija goes to the doctor for an arm ache and leaves with the knowledge that her recent forgetfulness is the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Slowly losing her vocabulary, she tries to rebuild it by joining a poetry class at the local community center. Try though she might, she can’t find “poetic inspiration.”

Mija’s teacher gives her class two suggestions to guide their work. “To write poetry,” he says, “you must see well. The most important thing in life is seeing,” Later he adds that writing poetry is “about discovering beauty in everything we see in front of us in everyday life.” By either measure, Lee’s film lives up to its title. The movie sees Mija, played in an award-worthy performance by Yun Jung-hee, with absolute clarity. Her struggle against her disease and her writer’s block could not be more mundane or, in its own way, more beautiful.

There are further complications. Mija’s lives with her grandson, a disrespectful teenager named Wook (Lee David). He spends an awful lot of time locked in his room in hushed conversation with a bunch of friends. Eventually, Mija learns that the boys played a role in the death of a fellow student, whose body is found floating in a river surrounded by spectacular natural beauty, in the film’s opening scene.

Threats, blackmail, and enormous moral decisions all follow. This is all the stuff of a great mystery film — indeed, the raw materials of this story are not very dissimilar to Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s exceptional mystery film “Mother” — but Lee is working in poetry, not narrative. Instead of focusing on the drama swirling around Mija, he narrows in on the woman herself, painting a fascinating character study with words and, when Mija’s memory fails her or inspiration eludes her, a poignant lack of words.

Mija’s journey to become a poet brings her to those community center classes. As an exercise to stimulate their writing, her fellow students describe “beautiful memories” in front of the class, and it is interesting to note how many of those memories are heartbreakingly sad. As Mija’s troubles deepen, she becomes more in tune with the everyday beauty around her – note how often bad news in this film is delivered in the presence of gorgeous bouquets of flowers.

For Lee, it seems, the best art must come from the most painful places. Maybe that’s the reason a fortunate man like myself has never been great at poetry and why, by the end of this haunting film, Mija has suddenly discovered a gift for it. You know the expression when life gives you lemons, make lemonade? “Poetry” is one hell of a lemonade stand.

“Poetry” opens today in New York City. For a full list of playdates, go to Kino.com.

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