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William Sten Olsson's
An American Affair
Opens Friday, February 27, 2009

Written By: Alex Metcalf
Starring: Gretchen Mol; James Rebhorn; Cameron Bright; Perrey Reeves; Mark Pellegrino; and Noah Wyle

Screen Media Films
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Intimate relationships between women in their thirties (usually teachers) and thirteen-year-old boys may not be commonplace, but we've read enough about them to not flinch every time Fox-TV broadcasts a new scandal. Director William Sten Olsson's An American Affair tells the story of several affairs, affairs of both the heart and of politics. But the most interesting affair in the film is the one between a lonely but precocious thirteen-year-old boy and a woman who could be a clone of Marilyn Monroe (Gretchen Mol).

American Affair is set in Washington D.C. in 1963, just after the Bay of Pigs debacle. The story is seen through the voyeuristic eyes of a young man (our thirteen year old) who peers through his binoculars at a naked woman in the house across the street. He watches her as she smokes a cigarette, then casually noticing her onlooker, slowly pulls down the shade. What's particularly strange about the neighbor's nonchalant behavior is that Catherine Caswell (Gretchen Mol) is a "confidante" of President Kennedy. One would expect someone with access to the White House to be a more private person.

Catherine employs the young man, Adam Stafford (Cameron Bright of Juno, Running Scared and Birth), as her gardener. Adam supposedly takes the job because he wants to make some money to use to for a school trip to to Europe. Catherine asks her new gardener to tear down everything in her home's landscaped terrain. This tear down desire is at least faintly plausible since Catherine is an abstract painter when she's not busy with her former husband, CIA operative Graham Caswell (Mark Pellegrino), Lucian Carver (James Carver), or the president. "Form is dead," Catherine states, and this opinion is wholeheartedly adopted up by the boy.

Needless to say Adam's parents, Mike (Noah Wyle) and Adrienne Stafford (Perrey Reeves) want their son to stay away from "that" woman. But staying away from that woman is the last thing on Adam's mind, especially since he is unhappy at his Catholic school where he is picked on by bullies. Adam, has his eyes not only on the beautiful Catherine but also on the spooky goings-on between Catherine, the ex-husband who wants her back and the mysterious CIA operative who is after the diary that Catherine has been keeping ever since she was in the third grade.

The final third of the film, the conspiratorial segment, lacks originality and credibility, since Catherine could have simply express-mailed her diary to the President rather, than risk its falling into the wrong hands.

Alex Metcalf wrote the script for the film, which was helmed by a first time director, the Swedish-born Willaim Sten Olsson. (Olsson was formerly a guitar player in a Swedish rock band.) Some archival film footage is used including clips from Kennedy's "ice bin ein Berliner" speech in Germany's capital, his fateful November trip to Dallas and Walter Cronkite's announcing the president's death on TV

Rated R. 93 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

P.J. Hogan's
Confessions of a Shopaholic
Opens February 13, 2009

Written By: Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth from Sophie Kinsella's novel
Starring: Isla Fisher; Hugh Dancy; Krysten Ritter; and Joan Cusack

Touchstone Pictures
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Two movies opening this Friday seem torn from today's headlines in that they both deal with banks as the bad guys. The International, a testosterone-filled action pic, finds the marmoreal institutions guilty of bad stuff which leads to murders rather than just the economic plundering that some of them are guilty of today. Confessions of a Shopaholic, an all-too-familiar piffle of a chick-flick, indirectly indicts banks for extending too much credit to people who cannot afford it. OK, that's stretching the point: P.J. Hogan, whose previous entries included two movies about marriage, is hardly catering to the political junkies in America with Shopaholic. Under the guise of wagging a finger at women who shop too much, P.J. Hogan, using Tracey Jackson and Tim Firth's screenplay adapted from Sophie Kinsella's novel, may be coaxing people in the audience into running to the top clothing stores in New York. It's all in good fun, with one exception: aside from a few creative scenes, the most ingenious being two in which store mannequins try to entice the principal character into buying but who later, ironically applaud her for passing them by, Confessions of a Shopaholic has a few laughs, but is bogged down by frantic editing and, worst of all, by characters so broadly conceived as to be frightening. And oh, as for the confessions of the title, they come late into the story and stand out as the one oasis of conversation in a desert of unrelenting kitsch.

Despite the economic times we're now in, the well-heeled, the less-anxious, those with good steady jobs, will still patronize the finest stores. The Ladies-Who-Lunch are one category—women who spend their days with friends lunching and shopping in New York's boutiques, though we're reluctant to call them shopaholics.

Shopaholism might be defined as an addiction to spending money that one does not have, which is the case with the film's main character, Rebecca Bloomwood, a sexy, funny, vivacious bundle of energy played by the thirty-three-year old Scottish actress, Isla Fisher. Rebecca is a character who could have come to us from a chapter of Sex and the City. Rebecca is a journalist with $16,000 and change in debts, charged to twelve bank cards. She is Interviewed by Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy) who is in charge of a financial magazine. Rebecca scores big on the interview, despite knowing nothing about derivatives or short selling. Her success in the interview is because Luke—accustomed to a mousy secretary (Julie Haggerty)--is taken in by Rebecca's woman's flaming red hair and kinetic energy. On probation for three weeks, Rebecca writes a column explaining high finance to the woman-in-the-street, a piece that has mass appeal and wins her a steady job, ultimately even a TV interview. As she is scouted by Alette Naylor, the publisher of an elite journal (Kristen Scott Thomas ) and badgered to give up her impecunious ways by her best friend Suze (Krysten Ritter), the audience is ten minutes ahead of the movie all the way.

Isla Fisher is a charmer, all right, and despite her hyperactivity is one of the least caricatured images. John Goodman and Joan Cusack as her parents, Julie Haggerty as the administrative assistant, and especially Krysten Ritter as about-to-be-married best pal, are portrayed in such outrageous parody that even in a feel-good comedy, they take away most shreds of audience credibility. This is not to take away from the inventiveness of costume designer Patricia Field, whose creations are reminiscent of The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City, the Movie. Jo Willems's photography finds such beauty in New York's upscale clothiers that credit cards are likely to come out, an outcome that would be just ducky for New York's economy.

Rated PG. 100 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

Michael Selditch and Rob Tate's
Eleven Minutes
Opens Friday, February 20, 2009

Starring: Jay McCarroll; Nancy Kane; Kelly Cutrone; Lee Deekle; Jason Lowe; Lola Brooks; Anthony Cady; Omahrya Mota; and Eve Salvail

Regent Releasing
Reviewed by Harvey Karten for New York Cool

Take a look at the poster that's used for marketing this movie, then watch the models walk seductively down the runway at a Bryant Park, New York spring 2007 fashion show. Would you agree with me when I say, "Who wears this stuff?" I'm sure there are women out there who would be content with a few pairs of sensible shoes (which most will not wear because they associate anything without heels to be for the elderly only), and maybe a couple of pairs of jeans. But the fashion industry is with us, it's part of what makes New York the world's most exciting city, and even if most of us have never seen anyone in these fashion show duds, for some there's nothing that succeeds like excess.

Really, though, Eleven Minutes (which is the time it takes for a bevy of male and female models to perambulate on a platform in front of buyers and the press) is not about clothing. The film is all about Jay McCarroll, who some people virtually worship as a charismatic guy who does not fear to show his vulnerabilities. Jay was the winner of the first season of TV's Project Runway. Eleven Minutes follows Jay as he attempts to produce a show at Bryant Park even though he is without funds. (McCarrol does receive a sponsorship from the Humane Society because he eschews using fur and leather in his clothing line.)

With Jay in every frame, chatting away to his unpaid help, Eleven Minutes puts us into the world of New York fashion, showing us how it takes eight months of work from a group of people to prepare for eleven minutes on the catwalk. And that is eight months of work without ever knowing whether they'll be able to sell what they're creating. Not everyone would necessarily agree with Jay's vision, which is to sketch potential creation after creation for overweight models and albinos. Jay does compromise his ideals (the overweight models and albinos), in a nod to the tastes of the real world.

McCarroll himself may be considered a cuddly teddy-bear by those who appreciate his down-home, bulky appearance, an appearance which would never allow him to walk down his own runway as anything other than the designer who appears for a few minutes at the end of the show. To me, however, he gives his documentary the feel of a vanity production. When McCarroll states that he'd just as soon open an ice cream establishment with his boyfriend and a dog, I say, sure, why not—at least then he'd be making a product with genuine, natural appeal rather than the sorts of garments that in my lifetime I've never seen anyone wear. When McCarroll states that some of his creations are inspired by vaginal discharge, he lost any semblance of normality for this reviewer.

Michael Seldith and Rob Tate, who direct this documentary, give McCarroll the opportunity to let it all hang out, but by allowing this "hanging out" rather than editing out some of the promiscuous vulgarity of both McCarroll's tongue and dare-one-say the wardrobe he creates for who-knows-who, they've made Eleven Minutes a film that should have lasted no more than its title.

For more information:

Unrated. 103 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

Mark Webber’s
Explicit Ills
Opens Friday, March 6, 2009

Starring: Rosario Dawson; Francisco Burgos; Paul Dano; Frankie Shaw; Lou Taylor Pucci; Naomie Harris; Tariq Trotter; Martin Cepeda, Jr.; and Destini Edwards.

Reviewed by By Frank J. Avella

An hour into the new indie gem, Explicit Ills, Rosario Dawson enters the film’s mosaic-like frame and immediately captivates the audience. The sequence of events that bring her into the story and the direction the movie takes once she is introduced into the narrative, are painful, honest and shocking.

Dawson delivers a powerful yet simple portrait of a mother who loves her son in a world where love doesn’t seem to matter as much as wealth, power and red tape. It’s a fierce and poignant performance made all the richer by the fact that by the time she appears we have already fallen in love with little Babo, played by the infectiously endearing and disarming Francisco Burgos.

Burgos’ performance is not of the in-your-face-love-me-now school that so many Hollywood child actors are about. This boy is immediately beloved because his sweetness comes from an organic, no-bullshit place.

And so much of Explicit Ills is no bullshit.

Writer/Director Mark Webber weaves an always fascinating, occasionally frustrating tapestry about a group of people who happen to live in the same Philadelphia neighborhood; all trying to survive these socio-economically challenging times.

His Altman-esque approach is commendable and he mostly succeeds as his disjointed narrative breeds cohesion and a type of filmic poetry.

Webber has a lot of creative fun with the camera and the way he decided to edit the film, placing his own original stamp on a work about social injustice that is rarely preachy and, ultimately, affirming.

The rich ensemble include: Paul Dano, Frankie Shaw, Lou Taylor Pucci, Naomie Harris, Tariq Trotter, Martin Cepeda, Jr. and Destini Edwards. All memorable.

I was not impressed with the final scene in the film as I felt there was something off about it. Maybe it was trying too hard, maybe not hard enough. But Explicit Ills is still quite the impressive achievement.

Carlos Saura's
Opens Friday, March 6, 2009

Written By: Carlos Saura, from an idea by Ivan Dias

Starring: Mariza; Camane; Carlos do Carmo; Chico Buarque; Caetano Veloso; Lila Downs; Lura; Miguel Poveda; Cuca; Argentina Santos; Ricardo Ribeiro; Carminho; Vicente da Camara; Maria da Nazare; Pedro Moutinho; Ana Soflia Varela; Toni Garrido; NBC CQ; SP & Wilson CQ; Mario Pacheco; Rui Veloso; and Joel Pina.

New Yorker Films
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Watch a performance of Spanish flamenco and follow it up with film about the Portugese musical tradition, fado. You can do this easily enough by renting a DVD of Carlos Saura's superbly choreographed Flamenco, the second of the trilogy that began with Tango and concludes with Fados.

The songs of fados deal with the feelings of the people, particularly the melancholy that comes with lost love.

Fados could have been a deadly dull documentary if it were a narrated explanation of the culture followed by snippets of song. Director Saura does not carve out a narrative form as he did with Tango or with his early 1980s trilogy of Blood Wedding, Carmen and El Amor Brujo. Fados is more a concert piece than story, its strands held together by a music form that that emerged from Portugal's poor neighborhoods in the 1820s and has developed to include African rhythms from Brazil as well as more conventional European musical styles.

Director Saura does a fine job portraying the fados tradition; he populates his film stages with singers and dancers who perform in front of a backdrop of film, both archival and modern. Some of the archival film that backs up the performers, depicts the aftermath of the revolution of April 25, 1974 when the people of Portugal massed in the streets holding red carnations to convince the soldiers not to resist the expulsion to Brazil of Marcelo Caetano. Other film backgrounds were made recently, but doctored to give the look of old Lisbon with major attention to Amalia Rodrigues, the Queen of Fado.

Saura employs a considerable amount of variety in Fados, and in this endeavor, he is helped by his able cinematographers (Jose Luis Lopez-Linares and Eduardo Serra), his choreographers (Patrick De Bana and Pedro Gomes), and also by his own talents as the production designer.

One of the groups performing in the film contributes the the jarring tones of hip-hop, with the rappers NBC, and SP & Wilson. The segment was entertaining enough but it broke up the narrative momentum. In another segment, the reggae star Toni Garrido is backed up by a bevy of women dancers in period costumes. The high spot is a concert in Lisbon's House of Fado, presumably a tourist attraction, in which singers and guitarists alternate, strutting their stuff to the applause of the patrons. Those of us not intimately familiar with fado might conclude (as I did) that the singers sound pretty much alike, mellifluous though their renditions might be.

Ultimately, though, this concluding hour and one half of Saura's trilogy (Tango, Flamenco and Fados) is the least impressive of the three films.

Unrated. 92 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

Matteo Garrone's
Opens February 13, 2009

Written By: Maurizio Braucci; Ugo Chiti; Gianni Di Gregorio; Matteo Garrone; Massimo Gaudioso; and Roberto Saviano, from Roberto Saviano's book

Starrring: Salvatore Abruzzese; Simone Sacchettino; Salvatore Ruocco; Vincenzo Fabricino; Vincenzo Altamura; Italo Renda; Gianfelice Imparato; Maria Nazionale; Salvatore Striano;,and Carlo Del Sorbo

IFC Films
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Here's something I've been wondering about. People engaged in organized crime, people who kill, maim, threaten, extort, poison, in short do anything to get their hands on dollars, euros, whatever: just what do they do with all that money? The press notes for Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah state that the Camorra, the syndicated crime operators whose activities are centered in Naples and Caserta, take in 500,000 euros a day in the drug trade. In the U.S.made films, we see criminals enjoy clubbing, fancy restaurants and night clubs. Maybe they give women jewelry. But from Garrone's picture, the mostly homely, obese, uneducated creeps seem never to leave the ghettos in which they work. Some drive nothing fancier than a Vespa. What's the deal?

We all know that organized crime is connected with drugs, prostitution, and shakedowns of small and larger businesses, but did you know that they have their fingers directly in the fashion industry—not just connecting from, but running the production of fake designer clothes? There's quite a bit of information contained in this film, though even at two and one-quarter hours it cannot possibly cover everything that is covered in Robert Saviano's book, Gomorrah: A Person Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System.

As a conveyer of information, Gomorrah rocks. As for being riveting—not so much. Perhaps the reason is that director Garrone, known previously for L'Imbalsamatore (a taxidermist if ridiculed for being short and creepy), deliberately fashions his film as a docudrama, one which has a few illustrations of violence such as the car bombing and machine-gunning activities of two bored, moronic kids, but is in no way comparable to the level of mayhem in City of God. Aside from its documentary look, the film suffers by its haphazard treatment of the stories of five separate families involved in Camorra activities; their inter-relationship becomes apparent late in the story—and even then, the tapestry is not tightly woven. Audience members who relish solid narratives will be disappointed by the hang-loose trajectory. Robert Altman fans may be more sanguine.

That said, the five scripters (one handling each family?) deal impressively with these people: before you go into the theater, it pays to read the program. Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato) is probably loved by the families he pays, the families of prisoners who have been with his clan; he has more class than most of his fellow criminals. Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese), a teenager who wears a shirt with "England 7" on his back and tweezes his eyebrows, is called upon to decide whether to join the "family." Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) are the most immature and undisciplined of the lot, generally relieving themselves of boredom by firing machine guns into the water while wearing nothing but underwear, in one instance, they blow up a boat. These two can be seen on posters marketing the movie. Roberto (Carmine Patermoster) is the other classy guy, a college grad who by rights should have moved to Rome to begin an honest career, but is seduced by an offer from Franco (Toni Servillo) to dispose of toxic waste. The last story is about Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo), a master tailor who "sells out" to Chinese competitors in the garment industry and must be smuggled away in the trunk of the Chinese boss' car to avoid being killed.

The geography compares unfavorably with the favelas treated by Fernando Meirelles in his 2002 film City of God. The film quality is sometimes grainy, with subtitles that are difficult to read against a white background, Garrone hones in on the big shots and their seedy careers, much of which consists of counting worn euro notes. The opening scenes are a hodgepodge of exposition, then the story takes hold. We meet the above-mentioned people carrying on their diurnal activities which include, on the bottom of the scale, a kid who delivers groceries but moves on to delivering goods that to some are more satisfying than skim milk. When it comes to character development, though, the most interesting folks include Pasquale, the tailor who is considered a traitor because he sneaks by night into a shop with eighty Chinese employees, lecturing to them about the finer points of sewing knock-off designer garments. (His talk is translated by two Chinese who are fluent in Italian.) Pasquale is one of the few characters in the film who has a conscience. Also showing a human conscience is the college-educated Roberto, who did not learn to pollute the water supply with toxic chemicals while in the halls of academe, and who makes a decision ultimately to walk away.

One wonders what the local carabinieri do with their time—possibly sipping cappuccino while the people they should be chasing are committing havoc. They always seem to be somewhere else when the killings, maimings, and poisonings take place. We leave the theater with the impression that the Camorra are not replicating just Gomorrah, but Sodom as well.

Not Rated. 135 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

Tom Tykwer's
The International
Opens Friday, February 13, 2009

Written By: Eric Warren Singer
Starring: Clive Owen; Naomi Watts; Armin Mueller-Stahl; Brian F. O'Byrne

Columbia Pictures
Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

Two movies opening this Friday appear torn from today's headlines, dealing as they do with banks as the bad guys. Confessions of a Shopaholic, a chick-flick, indirectly indicts banks for allowing too much credit for people who cannot afford it. The International, filled with far more action—a testosterone pic—finds banks messing around with some weird stuff that gets people killed rather than simply burdened with debt. The parallel between the events depicted in The International and those occurring today as banks and brokerage houses have led the economy to global recession, gives the film an appeal which it would not have had were it released a year ago.

Though the story is fiction, it is based on an actual bank, the Bank of Credit and Commercial International, or BCCI, based in Karachi, Pakistan. The Karachi based BCCI specialized in money laundering, arms dealing to rebel armies, and deals made with the mafia until it went belly-up in 1991.

Tom Tykwer, known principally for his breathtaking Run, Lola, Run (a young woman has just twenty minutes to take 100,000 Deutschmarks to her boyfriend before he robs a supermarket), directs a mighty tense Clive Owen in the role of Interpol agent Louis Salinger. Salinger is an enraged force determined to bring down one of the world's best-known banks, the BCCI which has corporate offices in Luxembourg. He is paired with a New York district attorney, Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), (though she might just as well have stayed out of the story for all the import she adds). Salinger springs into action when he witnesses the murder of a colleague just outside the main railway station in Berlin. He investigates a network of people who finance a arms buy for a rebel leader in Liberia while fresh from selling missiles to Syria and Iran and, strange-to-tell, to Israel as well. While Tykwer is not markedly concerned with providing psychological motivations for his characters, we do learn that Agent Salinger takes a personal interest in his case in order to redeem himself from a failing years back.

Though there's no particular wit or rhythm in Eric Warren Singer's dialogue, the one gem that stands out is uttered by Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a man who had dedicated his life to furthering Communism while a member of the East German secret police and is involved in the bank's manipulations. He states essentially that the difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. In that regard, he punctuates the film's weakness, since so much is going on with so many shady characters in New York, Lyon, Milan, Berlin, Wolfsburg (Germany), and Istanbul that we in the audience cannot be blamed for wondering whether the concluding half-hour would get everything to gel.

The big plus is Frank Griebe's filming on location, on sites that include New York Guggenheim Museum, but more dramatically in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar and Suleymaniye Mosque. Griebe employs guerrilla filmmaking in the crowded marketplace without using extras. While the film is largely cerebral, The International features (along with the inevitable car chases) a fourteen-minute shootout in the Guggenheim Museum, the interior of which was created on a Berlin sound stage to allow Agent Salinger, an assassin known as The Consultant (Brian F. O'Byrne), and others to destroy the building while amassing a body count. Noted Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen performs the role of Jonas Skarssen, the CEO of the bank and thereby the principal agent of arms sales to terrorists and rogue countries—a fellow who intones the caveat that whether he is killed or not, there are hundreds of bankers to take his place to continue the nefarious activities.

In the world of The International, bank patrons, are not interested in toasters for opening accounts, they are more interested in establishing their power, a power metaphorically illustrated by a series of large, glass-enclosed structures that come across as impenetrable. With architecture playing a major role, The International jumps from scene to scene so rapidly that the audience will be left with an overall view of what occurs when the bankers work past three in the afternoon, but will be frustrated in making sense of the plethora of people, places and things that punctuate the story's themes. Clive Owen as the tale's centerpiece tries to cement the various pieces, a driven man with a perpetual two-day beard.

Rated R. 119 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


James Gray's
Two Lovers
Opens Friday 13, 2009

Written By: James Gray
Starring: Joachim Phoenix; Gwyneth Paltrow; Vinessa Shaw; Isabella Rossellini; John Ortiz; and Moni Moshonov

Reviewed for New York Cool by Harvey Karten

It's may be a surprise to some that single people in their thirties are still living with their parents. Such living arrangements may be common in other parts of the world, but in America, living with your parents brands a youth as immature. At least now they may have an excuse: it's the economy, stupid. But the two principals in James Gray's film cannot legitimately get away with such a claim. One is a disturbed man of about thirty who shares a cramped apartment with his folks in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, even working for his dad in the family dry-cleaning establishment. The other may not live with her parents, but she is set up by her sugar-daddy in an apartment in the same building - a kept woman. These two are not just immature: they're screwed up.

Two Lovers is the story of two screwed-up people—how they live their lives as through they were still adolescents and how they "find" each other the way people with the same character deficits tend to find each other.

Two Lovers (loosely based on a Dostoevsky story), will remind moviegoers of films like Marty and European classics like La Strada and Night of Cabiria . What's surprising about this story is how astonishing this fairly-low-budget film actually is. Graced with superlative casting, Two Lovers rocks because everyone in the tale is so believable. Joachim Phoenix, in particular, inhabits his role so closely that we put aside our images of him in roles such as the vengeance-crazed Ethan Learner of Reservation Road, Johnny Cash in Walk the Line and Commodus in Gladiator. In Two Lovers, Phoenix portrays a man who, despite his emotional disturbance, is able to seduce two beautiful women.

Writer-director James Gray, whose 1994 film Odessa gives him the creds to make another story located in Brighton Beach, tells a story of a guy who turns his hostility inward. Joaquin Phoenix's character, Leonard Kraditor, opens the movie by jumping from the small bridge overlooking the neighborhood's Sheepshead Bay. Having lost his fiancé on the brink of their marriage because both tested positive for Tay-Sachs disease (a genetic mutation which afflicts Eastern European Jews), he has been sharing a roof with his Israeli-born dad, Reuben (Moni Moshovnov) and mom, Ruth (Isabella Rossellini). He meets Michael Cohen (Bob Ari), who is expected to buy the family dry-cleaning business, and whose unmarried daughter Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) has shown a romantic interest in Leonard. But when Leonard meets Michelle Rausch (Gwyneth Paltrow), a beautiful neighbor, he is smitten, determined to compete with the woman's older married lover, Ronald Blatt (Elias Koteas).

What's clear enough in this film is that, despite the usual blindness that afflict those who are in love, is that Michelle, however physically desirable and perky, is erratic. Since Michelle is rich and "kept" by a successful Manhattan lawyer, she is out of Leonard's class. It is obvious to the audience that Leonard would do better with Michelle, who comes from a similar, merchant class, and who is so stable that she understands his problems and even tells him that she can take care of him.

Two Lovers is old-fashioned enough in its treatment of family ties that we in the audience are eager to find out "what happens next." The conclusion, happily, is not all that predictable, leaving us to ponder just how well Leonard is going to make out during the next few years or decades. Gwyneth Paltrow seems not to age: she is as beautiful as she appeared in 1995 as Patsy Jefferson in James Ivory's Jefferson in Paris. Elias Koteas, in the role of the philandering lawyer, turns in solid work as a fellow who is nothing in the looks department but obviously has appeal (in addition to his money) for his young girlfriend. But the big prize goes to Joaquin Phoenix, whose emotions can be read at any moment on his face and through his body language. His portrayal of Leonard is intense and credible, telling us a story of a man whose charisma pulls two young women into his orbit despite—or perhaps because of—his vulnerability.

Rated R. 110 minutes. © 2009 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online


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