Review: ‘Aloha’ dialogue sparkles, but story elements lack flavour

29 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Aloha’ Review: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone Anchor Cameron Crowe’s Harmless Miss.

I am a fan of Cameron Crowe. Thumbnail: Cameron Crowe’s newest romantic comedy doesn’t quite work, but it is entertaining enough thanks to clever dialogue and old-school movie star charisma.After being warned by his ex-girlfriend that her husband, Woody, is a man of few words, military contractor Brian Gilcrest and Air Force pilot Woody Woodside engage in a deft and funny bout of silent communication.

Not only did he live out my childhood dream of being a teenage rock journalist and touring with Led Zeppelin but he also wrote “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and gave us the sublime “Almost Famous.” So when it comes to his new film, “Aloha,” it gives me no pleasure to report, in a paraphrase of one of the master’s greatest lines, it didn’t have me at hello. Paced like a record on the wrong speed, or a Nancy Meyers movie recut by an over-caffeinated Jean-Luc Godard, the film bears all the telltale signs of a poorly executed salvage operation disfigured in the editing bay.

But as far as misfires from great American filmmakers go, it’s a fascinating one, less a simple failed Cameron Crowe film than a total deconstruction. Air Force general requests “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” at a Christmas party, and the Tears for Fears tune resonates with other power-hungry guests in “Aloha.” The writer-director also provides subtitles for a wordless exchange between two men who wonder if they’re romantic rivals and confirm some essential information with glances, shoulder clasps and a hug. Bradley Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, a disgraced defense military contractor hired by his old boss, billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), to supervise the launch of a satellite in Hawaii. The film was among those dinged by Sony executives as revealed during the massive hack last year, and it shows clear signs of nipping, tucking, and post-production tinkering.

Given its rather extraordinary bad pre-release buzz and what is sure to be poor word of mouth from any viewer expecting a new “Jerry Maguire” (or even a new “Elizabethtown”), the film’s commercial prospects look murky. Why should Aloha, Crowe’s latest romantic dramedy set in Hawaii, where local tradition still bristles under the weight of over a century of cultural displacement by white interlopers, be any different?

It’s an odd, funny moment in a comedy that wasn’t at all what I expected, given its underpinnings about the privatization of the space program, questions about controlling the starry, satellite-studded skies and even some Hawaiian myths, which bolster the local flavor. He’s a brilliant but troubled guy — he’s described as a “sad city coyote” — with a history who is immediately confronted with his romantic past in the form of his former flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams). But when faced with a work this fatally misguided, one can only hope it will serve an emetic purpose, a cleansing of the system before Crowe can get his mojo working again. It meanders around its movie road map although it delivers, as promised in the ads, romantic entanglements past and present with characters played by Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone. “Aloha” is not Mr.

It’s a false charge based primarily on the trailer, since the film features a major plot involving indigenous Hawaiians and fears related to colonization. That Oscar- and Golden Globe-winner starred George Clooney as a very tan white Hawaiian, but at least explored the tricky terrain of identity and ownership bubbling under the surface of local politics in modern Hawaii. Crowe’s best, nor is it his worst, but it does boast a handsome, appealing cast, scenery off the beaten path and an original story about second chances. Romance blooms as international intrigue brews with Gilcrest at the center of each scenario. “Aloha” is part rom-com, part industrial thriller and part redemption tale. From former Sony Pictures co-chief Amy Pascal’s fierce critiques in those infamous hacked memos, to Hawaiian groups expressing concern, sight unseen, that the film would represent a whitewashing of native culture, the project was put through the wringer long before critics and most industryites even had a chance to see it.

Alas: Aloha falls more in line with the Elvis Presley tradition, in which Hawaiian concerns serve as plot-driving stepping stones for a white hero’s personal and romantic misadventures. The director attempts to mix the various components together under the soft sheen of Hawaiian mythology and spiritualism but the film still feels disjointed as though it’s two different stories mashed into one.

The Cameron Crowe feature cost $39 million to produce, is precisely the kind of adult-skewing character study that we all complain that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. By the time the film is actually unleashed on the world, viewers are more likely to be grumbling about the fact that, despite an introductory voiceover and numerous rapid-fire bursts of expository dialogue, it takes an exceedingly long time to figure out just who the characters are, what they want, and what they’re doing. “Aloha” centers on Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), a disillusioned former pilot and space aficionado with a shadowy past in Afghanistan, who is currently working as a military contractor for a flamboyant industrialist (Bill Murray).

Crowe’s dialogue occasionally sparkles — “You’ve sold your soul so many times nobody’s buying anymore,” is a great line — but it’s not enough to connect us to the situation or the characters. It also stars some honest-to-goodness movie stars like Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, and Rachel McAdams, along with added-value elements like Bill Murray and Alec Baldwin.

Select Alison Ng, it’s the scenes in which little is said that often exert the most charm in “Aloha.” When he lands in Honolulu, Gilcrest is a tarnished Air Force vet who’s gone on to work in the private sector. There, he reunites with the ex-girlfriend he ran out on 13 years ago (Rachel McAdams), who’s now married with kids to one of his old Air Force buddies. It is not insane to predict/hope that older audiences will simply see the trailer and decide to check out that new comedy by the guy who made Jerry Maguire starring that guy from American Sniper. She’s proudly one-quarter Hawaiian, a plot point that’s sure to raise red flags, though in context it plays more like a running joke, akin to the lily-white frat brother who talks endlessly about his vague Cherokee heritage. Almost Famous is one of my all-time favorite movies, but I won’t pretend it was a real hit back in 2000 (it was a classic “one for me” project after Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire earned $273m worldwide in 1996), nor will I pretend that the Matt Damon/Scarlett Johansson family comedy We Bought A Zoo wasn’t a leggy hit in late 2011/early 2012 just because I didn’t care much for it.

On that note, while it’s perfectly germane to ask why an actual Hawaiian actress couldn’t have tackled the part, “Aloha” is hardly culturally insensitive. Gilcrest has sold his soul to the devil, a cunning billionaire with an interest in satellites (Bill Murray) and is in town to hustle together a deal to get local Hawaiian sovereignty leaders to bless a ceremonial gate opening that has something to do with a U.S. military rocket launch. Brian must negotiate a deal with the spiritual and political leader of the indigenous Hawaiian movement, a role played in real life and on screen by Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele.

It stands to reason that a massive success like American Sniper would earn Bradley Cooper a few more “will show up because he is in it” kind of fans. Stone’s character tags along as they politely wrangle over ownership of nearby mountains, free cellular service for the locals and keeping the skies above the islands safe from weapons. As Ng and Gilcrest criss-cross the islands, doing whatever it is that they’re supposed to be doing, they hatch a hesitant romance and may or may not have a supernatural experience, while Gilcrest’s sporadic discussions with Tracy hint at the questionable parentage of her preteen daughter (Danielle Rose Russell).

On the personal front, Tracy reminds Brian why they broke up and adds, “Hey, I really loved you and, uh, you wrecked everything.” Her husband, an Air Force C-17 pilot (John Krasinski), is a quiet man who doesn’t talk much — at all, most of the time. The overarching themes here appear to be Gilcrest’s redemption — though what he’s being redeemed for is never satisfactorily articulated – and the preservation of Hawaii’s sacred aura, as underscored by Tracy’s precocious, videocamera-toting son (Jaeden Lieberher), who proves to be an encyclopedic fount of knowledge about the fertility god Lono. Most, but certainly not all, of these divergent narrative strands come together by the end, yet the filmmaking is so haphazard that it’s hard to care about any of it. Meanwhile, Aloha’s already caught heat from Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders for appropriating its title from a word laden with meaning and history. If it seemed obvious whom Gilcrest would wind up with when Ng picked up him on the tarmac at the start of “Aloha,” it becomes less so as the story moves them closer but also creates hurdles, romantic and professional.

Sometimes “Aloha” almost feels like an expression of frustration, a frantic feature-length attempt to bundle all his narrative tics and stray emotional bric-a-brac into a rocket and blast it off into space. A scathing statement issued by the Media Action Network for Asian Americans fired the first shot. “60% of Hawaii’s population is [Asian American Pacific Islanders]. Caucasians only make up 30 percent of the population [of Hawaii], but from watching this film, you’d think they made up 99 percent,” said MANAA President Guy Aoki. “This comes in a long line of films—The Descendants, 50 First Dates, Blue Crush, Pearl Harbor—that uses Hawaii for its exotic backdrop but goes out of its way to exclude the very people who live there. In terms of the story, Hawaiian myths are touched upon but not explored in depth, and the same can be said of Brian’s black-hearted misadventures before returning to the islands.

Ng is almost fleshed out by Stone’s energetic performance, though the character’s essential contradictions — for one, she’s terrified of the idea of weaponized satellites polluting the peaceful purity of the Hawaiian sky, even though she’s a fighter pilot — keep her feeling like an undercooked writerly device. It’s an insult to the diverse culture and fabric of Hawaii.” MANAA and other Aloha critics didn’t get to see the film before issuing their statements; Sony didn’t conduct a press day for the movie (translation: no stars did interviews) and hid the film from everyone, including journalists, until three days before it opened.

In that regard, “Aloha” is like a slice of cherry pie in which the filling — the romcom material — is fresh and sweetly tart, and the crust or almost everything else is too chewy and difficult to swallow. Not since The Avengers (no, not THAT Avengers) have I seen a major summer release so heavily compromised to the point of near-incoherence thanks to the test screening/post-production process. And an unkempt Murray appears to have been given free rein to simply goof off through his scenes, making the pic’s already befuddling military intrigue subplot even more surreal. The plot concerns a disgraced and somewhat traumatized and battle-scarred private military contractor who gets something of a second chance when he is sent to Hawaii to oversee the launching of a new satellite.

And Stone and Murray stage a dance-off to Hall and Oates that’s appealing for reasons which should be self-explanatory, even if it might as well have been shot at the wrap party, for all the sense it makes to the narrative. The opening credits begin with a montage of newsreel-style images of Hawaii around the time it became the 49th state and the military’s space-program efforts.

Production design, camerawork and art direction are all topnotch, and the film showcases a bevy of beautiful island landscapes with nary a swimming pool nor a beach resort in sight. When Gilcrest and Ng travel to a rural commune to get a Hawaiian blessing for a checkpoint, their visit has the feel of a trek to a reservation to meet with a tribal council. Hawaiian folk music supplements Crowe’s predictable classic rock selections on the soundtrack well enough, and a score from Sigur Ros offshoot Jonsi and Alex is appropriately transporting. Native, because the blond, green-eyed Ng is one-quarter Chinese, one-quarter Hawaiian, and one-quarter Swedish, making Aloha the first major studio movie to explain to white folks how you pronounce the name “Ng” (like ‘ring,’ without the R). Emma Stone comes on like a firecracker, but the picture does not quite make her out to be a would-be a would-be “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Their eventual romance is not treated as an iconic screen romance, but merely a case of two exceptionally attractive people finding that they have chemistry together.

Crowe might’ve even gotten away with it if he’d cast any of his supporting characters with minorities, more accurately repping the ethnic makeup of the islands. Stone and McAdams may be supporting Cooper’s journey, but they are fleshed out characters who are not necessarily supporting players in their own lives. Instead, his “love letter” to Hawaii feels about as authentic as a mainlander’s #TBT to that one exotic Oahu vacay years ago, sipping Mai Tais on the beach at sunset while watching the hula show.

Dennis Bumpy Kanahele plays himself in a key supporting role, and Sony could have saved themselves a world of annoyance by showcasing him and his story a little bit in the film’s theatrical trailer. Americans took the land away from its rightful owners long ago, he says with friendly reserve, resisting Gilcrest’s offer to get in bed with the U.S. government.

Sony also pointed to Kanahele’s involvement in the film as proof of validation by endorsement: “Filmmaker Cameron Crowe spent years researching this project and many months on location in Hawaii, cultivating relationships with leading local voices. The film ends well before botching the landing with an unnecessary and detrimental epilogue that has a major character making what is an awfully selfish decision for no good reason other than personal validation. He earned the trust of many Hawaiian community leaders, including Dennis ‘Bumpy’ Kanahele, who plays a key role in the film.” Unfortunately, the plot thread involving Kanahele and the Native Hawaiian cause dissipates like the mythological Menehune into the misty Hawaiian night. Aloha’s minority characters take the backseat, left to look for signs in the sky as Cooper’s flawed hero saves them from a fate of his own making, transformed by the island’s mana, and by love.

Yes, Cameron Crowe’s Aloha is a structural mess, and yes the plot feels so randomly stitched together that it almost resembles a Torah scroll in its (metaphorical) absence of vowels.

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Finding the ‘Joy’ in Jennifer Lawrence

20 Jan 2016 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Joy’ review: Jennifer Lawrence cleans up in enjoyable biopic.

Writer-director David O. Their latest collaboration — following in the footsteps of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle — is a biographical picture about the life and times of Joy Mangano.Jennifer Lawrence groans when she’s asked about singing the classic Nancy and Frank Sinatra duet Something Stupid with co-star Edgar Ramirez in her new film Joy. “David [O Russell, the movie’s director] texted me last night to ask if he could put it on the soundtrack and this is what I texted him back,” the actor says as she digs around for her mobile phone and reads out her response verbatim. “‘David, no!!!’ and it is three exclamation marks.In a very abbreviated nutshell, that actually happened to Joy Mangano, 59, the fabulously successful Long Island entrepreneur/inventor and HSN pitchwoman whose rags-to-riches journey started with the invention of a mop.

Russell has made three kinds of movies: offbeat romances (“Flirting With Disaster”), surreal comedies (“I Heart Huckabees”) and dramas about dysfunctional yet appealing families (“The Fighter”). In real life, Mangano is the Long Island housewife and inventor who became famous and eventually rich after bouts of near-bankruptcy, by creating and marketing her Miracle Mop. Out Boxing Day in Australia, the film stars Jennifer Lawrence in the fictionalised life story of Joy Mangano, a single mum from Long Island who made her fortune selling a mop. On Christmas Day, “Joy,” a movie inspired by her struggles as a divorced, single mother turned mogul by way of that mop, will open at movie theaters across America.

This was before she hooked up with the giant Home Shopping Network, becoming their most effective pitch person and eventually selling her parent company, Ingenious Designs, to HSN. Gross, I can’t listen to it; I have to go to bed.’ And I said yes, but it’s a groaning, reluctant yes.” It’s the kind of unfiltered moment you come to expect when interviewing Lawrence, who may now be one of the most famous actors on the planet but still blurts out whatever she’s thinking with such self-deprecating charm it’s impossible not to be, well, charmed.

Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Miracle Mop inventor and QVC pitchwoman Joy Mangano glues the movie together, but it threatens to unravel at any time. Lawrence, 25, looks genuinely surprised when complimented about how unchanged she seems from our earlier interviews before the fame and Oscars. “But there would be no reason to change,” she says with a shrug. “I just have a job and I love my job. In the film, Lawrence’s Mangano is a colourful character, a single mom with a unique relationship and friendship with her ex-husband, and an enterprising woman who parlays her creativity into an incredibly successful business.

Mom (Virginia Madsen) stays in her bedroom and watches soap operas, until she falls for a Haitian plumber (Jimmy Jean-Louis) who fixes a hole in her bedroom floor. She landed minor roles on TV shows such as Monk, Cold Case and Medium before her 2010 indie film Winter’s Bone led to her becoming the second youngest best actress Oscar nominee in history. This is true even when the film tilts off its rocker with a bit of Russell-esque madness built into the screenplay, and with the director failing to always keep the energy going. That resulted in not only a string of critically acclaimed films, an Academy Award and another Oscar nomination, but also her very own mega-franchise as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.

Joy’s grandma (endearing Diane Ladd) delivers messages of empowerment and smooths over constant fights, but she’s opposed by the money-grubbing rich woman (Isabella Rossellini) who dates Joy’s dad and sends negative messages about her. Lawrence’s endearing habit of speaking her mind resulted in a controversial essay she penned on Lena Dunham’s website about her discovery during the Sony hacks that she was being paid less “than the lucky people with dicks” on her recent films, including American Hustle. “I completely understand when people say actors shouldn’t talk about politics and things they don’t know about, but this was my gender at stake and it was being threatened with unfairness and I thought, ‘What is the point of having this voice if it’s not to speak out for myself and for everyone else who can’t?’,” she says unapologetically.

Upon learning that Lawrence would be playing her mom, Miranne says, “I braced myself so I wouldn’t fall on the floor.” As for Mangano, she says Lawrence playing her “made me feel old, number one. Lawrence hangs out with a posse of celebrity girlfriends, including Amy Schumer and singer Adele, but the reason is simple. “The friendship gets expedited a lot when you meet someone you know beyond a shadow of a doubt has no agenda,” she says. Draining her savings and taking out loans, she started off small, selling her mops to local boat owners. “She persuaded QVC to take a thousand, but sales were poor and they tried to send them back,” says Mason. “She suggested letting her demonstrate it herself, and the channel agreed.” Sales skyrocketed and Mangano’s career as a QVC pitch woman was launched. That’s so amazing there aren’t even words.” Mangano and her three children didn’t view “Joy” until the Dec. 13 premiere in Manhattan, though a family outing to see “Trainwreck” included a trailer.

This is, after all, the self-confessed reality-show junkie who confessed in a recent Vogue interview that on the night of her 25th birthday party, friends surprised her with a visit from reality queen Kris Jenner, who presented her with a cake inscribed, ‘Happy Birthday, you piece of shit!’ The only time she seems tongue-tied is when asked about her relationship status, after a four-year stint with X-Men: First Class co-star Nicholas Hoult and a year with Coldplay singer Chris Martin before their breakup earlier this year. “Next!” Lawrence says in a no-nonsense voice, pausing as she decides if she’ll continue that thought. For one thing, Mangano’s childhood is not that interesting for a film, despite some flashbacks to her as a youngster (when she is played by 10-year-old Isabella Cramp, who does actually look like we imagine Lawrence could have at the same age). A satire on the acquisitiveness of the public? (Here, QVC foists unnecessary things on gullible viewers who could better save their money.) Russell doesn’t seem to know. And, of course, the grave ending would be a lie: Mangano is very much alive at the age of 59, still inventing, still pitching products, still a superstar of the American home shopping universe. There’s the Clothes It All luggage system, essentially a rolling suitcase with a removable garment bag, and the Super Chic vacuum, which releases fragrance into the air.

If I even casually say something to a reporter, that quote haunts me for the rest of my life,” she says, “so I am never, ever, ever talking about boys again!” I don’t think any of us brought enough tissues!” A good portion of the film was shot last winter in Boston, and though the always-busy Mangano was twice scheduled to visit the set, snowstorms made travel impossible. He has mixed genres successfully before, as in the anti-war comedy-drama “Three Kings,” but the blender often grinds to a halt in “Joy.” Just as we’re getting used to the realism of Mangano’s fight for respect, Russell photographs Rossellini as if she were a gargoyle.

One of her creations, the thin and velvet-covered Huggable Hanger, remains a bestseller for HSN, at more than 300 million sold, and was endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. Yet in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Cooper, De Niro and Russell all supported her with fine work; here they lay back and make the movie a one-ring circus where she has to be acrobat, bareback rider and clown.

He had a presence all of his own.” At one point, Miranne says, “Jennifer grabbed Joy’s hand and said to David, ‘Look at the nails, a French manicure.’ ” (That manicure is a Mangano signature.) Lawrence revealed that in studying for her part as Joy, she watched recordings of the inventor’s early pitches on HSN, including ones for “Huggable Hangers” and found her so compelling that she wanted to buy them on the spot. There is something special when creative people get together.” Mangano’s take on Lawrence? “She’s beyond her years, so brilliant, hysterical and so talented.

Critically, Russell’s sense of wonder and beauty turns elegiac moments — especially when Joy Mangano becomes fully realized as a woman and as a business executive — into scenes of great beauty. Lawrence recently said on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” that the movie was “half Joy Mangano’s story and half [Russell’s] imagination and other powerful, strong women who inspired him.” The director mined much of his Mangano material by phone.

The cast includes Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Susan Lucci (in a mock TV soap opera that gives Joy some of its silliness) and even Melissa Rivers as her late mother Joan Rivers. There’s no situation Joy cannot overcome or circumvent.” At a Newsday photo shoot at Mangano’s luxurious but serene 42,000-square-foot mansion on 11 acres in St. As for parting advice for the ambitious? “If this movie inspires even just one more person to believe in themselves and to go after their dreams, then it’s made a very special impact in this world.

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