February 14, 2014

Movie reviews: A Winter's Tale, About Last Night

By Carl Kozlowski *

Catching a movie on Valentine’s Day is usually an easy and romantic night out. But unfortunately, the two romances opening today are unlikely to make Catholic couples happy, for two very different reasons.

First off, “Winter’s Tale” starring Colin Farrell with an intriguing supporting cast that includes Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Eva Marie Saint in addition to newcomer Jessica Brown Findlay, appears to be just the ticket for couples with class. It’s written and directed by Akiva Goldsman, who dealt with a romance in powerful fashion in his Oscar-winning script for “A Beautiful Mind.”

But the surprising problem is that the movie’s plot is filled with gaping holes you could drive a truck through, as well as a completely incoherent point of view about the world its characters inhabit. The story follows Peter Lake (Farrell), a young man who has spent much of his adult life as a thief working for a mysterious crime boss named Pearly Somes (Crowe), yet now wants to stop his life of crime.

With his evil boss desperate to keep him under his thumb, Peter realizes that he has to escape New York City if he is to find a chance at a law-abiding life. But as he attempts to break one last safe to have the funds for his getaway, he finds that a glowing beauty named Beverly lives there while suffering from a terminal case of tuberculosis.

Exhibiting the logical thinking and maturity of a 5 year-old, Peter is instantly and totally smitten, vowing that he loves her truly, completely and eternally despite the fact he’s barely exchanged five sentences with her. But he snatches her up and makes a getaway from Pearly and his men, who are all too eager to capture the new pair.

It turns out that Pearly is secretly a major demon who fears that the couple finding love will upset the balance of the universe and put the devil’s side hopelessly behind in the timeless battle between good and evil. And Peter has to be convinced that his love alone is good enough to save Beverly from her impending early death.

So far, so good for a swoon-worthy romantic film, right? Well, hold on. First, “Winter’s Tale” is unbelievably slow-paced and features countless repetitive conversations from many different side characters whose entire purpose is to provide jumbled explanations of what’s going on.

Peter and Beverly spend the entire movie either on the run or goofily staring each other in the face, and we are told by different characters that their quest for love is the miracle in their lives that is destined to happen. At the same time, there’s mumbo-jumbo about whether people become stars when they die (the sky kind, not the Hollywood kind), and every five minutes there’s a new set of rules regarding what the demons can and can’t do in their quest for stopping humans from committing miracles.

Everything is shot beautifully, and the lead couple of Farrell and Findlay really look in love, but the movie’s mess of New Age opinions on the state of love and the universe are maddening. Why can’t Hollywood ever just let a normal couple who are outside Biblical epics believe in God and the Heavenly form of eternal life?

Don’t they realize that Caucasian people in 1800s New York – where most of the film takes place before inexplicably jumping into the present day and a resolution dependent upon reincarnation – were either Judeo-Christian or only aware of a Judeo-Christian cosmology? There’s no way WASP society was delving into reincarnation, or the idea that people transform into stars, or anything else for that matter.

At least “Winter’s Tale” won’t utterly mortify audiences, even as it might bore them when it’s not annoying them with its spiritual smorgasbord of ideas.

The same can’t  be said for the new remake of the 1986 raunchy romantic comedy “About Last Night,” which has been remade with an all-black cast headed by new superstar Kevin Hart, whose smash hit “Ride Along” has set him up as the biggest new black comedy star since Eddie Murphy 30 years ago.

The movie follows the story of Bernie (Hart) and Danny (Michael Ealy), two single guys in Los Angeles; Bernie is a womanizing playboy, while Danny is a nicer guy recovering from the breakup with a longtime girlfriend. Bernie surprises Danny by staying involved with a wild woman named Joan (Regina Hall), and invites Danny to meet her. When her best friend Debbie (Joy Bryant) comes along that night, Danny and Debbie have a one-night stand of their own.

While Bernie and Joan are shown as wild and raunchy, Danny and Debbie are idealized as the perfect, “normal” couple. But over the course of a year, the movie shows the complications that ensue for each of the two couples as the four lead characters learn to overcome their fears of intimacy and commitment and work their way towards cohabitation as a sign of their maturity.

On this surface level, “About Last Night” is like countless other romantic or sex comedies, but the cast performs with a great deal of appealing energy that will make the movie fun to watch for secular-minded audiences. Kevin Hart in particular is easily the most dynamic black comic actor since the early heyday of Eddie Murphy’s career, while Ealy and Bryant form a realistic couple with more emotional depth, and veteran character actor Christopher MacDonald has a great supporting role as a bar owner who serves as a mentor for Danny. The movie looks good, too, with glowing depictions of Los Angeles, and director Steve Pink pulls it all together in stylish form.

But the huge problem with this movie is that it is overloaded with raunchy, sometimes even gross, sexual humor and scenes. Any believer is sure to be offended at numerous points in the movie, which is so over the top it may offend completely secular audiences as well. It is a shame that the filmmakers and cast feel that such filthy humor is needed to make an impact on today’s audiences, but sadder still is that this movie is likely to be a big hit due to Hart’s popularity, and thus will inspire future movies to follow its dirty path. “About Last Night” also has a completely nonchalant attitude towards premarital sex and cohabitation, and as such is inappropriate for any discerning audience.

Carl Kozlowski has been a professional film critic and essayist for the past five years at Pasadena Weekly, in addition to the Christian movie site Movieguide.org, the conservative pop culture site Breitbart.coms Big Hollywood, the Christian pop culture magazine Relevant and New City newspaper in Chicago. He also writes in-depth celebrity interviews for Esquire.com and The Progressive. He is owner of the podcasting site www.radiotitans.com, which was named one of the Frontier Fifty in 2013 as one of the 50 best talk-radio outlets in the nation by www.talkers.com and will be relaunching it in January 2014 after a five-month sabbatical. He lives in Los Angeles.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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