Monday, February 24, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Winter's Tale

Winter's Tale was written and directed by Akiva Goldsman (writer of Batman Forever and Batman And Robin) and is based on the novel of the same name by Mark Helprin.

Goldsman also wrote the screenplay for A Beautiful Mind, but then wrote The DaVinci Code and Angels And Demons. Now that's an uneven career!

It's an odd, sloppy mess of a film full of new age-y hokum and cringe-worthy dialog, and is tough to catagorize. Think Gangs Of New York but with fantasy elements such as angels, demons and flying horses, and you'll have a pretty good idea what it's like.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
In 1916, Peter Lake (Colin Ferrell) is a thief on the run from his former boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who's some kind of immortal demon or something. Lake runs into Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay of Downton Abbey fame), a young socialite whose
terminal illness gives her godlike insight. Oh, and Peter teams up with a mysterious white horse that can fly. Just go with it.

Beverly tells Peter than everyone is born with a miracle inside them and when it's completed, they die and become a star in the night sky. Peter believes his miracle is to save Beverly, but she proves him a liar by dying. Whoops!

After her funeral, Peter's cornered by Pearly Soames and his men. Soames head butts Peter and shoves him off the Brooklyn Bridge.

Cut to 2014, when Peter is inexplicably still alive, and an amnesiac. Apparently he hasn't died yet because he still has some sort of special purpose to fulfill. Or because of his intense love for Beverly. Or maybe just because the script says so.

He meets a woman named Virginia whose daughter Abby is dying. Peter regains his memory and realizes his miracle was not to save Beverly, but to save Abby. Just go with it. He saves her and his flying horse appears and they fly off and become stars in the night sky.

Thoughts:
• The story begins in 1886 when Peter Lake's immigrant parents are refused entry into the U.S. Determined their son should have a better life in America, they place him in a model sailboat and shove him towards New York.

I have a hard time believing any mother would willingly place her baby in a tiny, unseaworthy model of a sailing ship, never to know if he survived or not. Things must have really been bad in their home country if the possibility of drowning is a better fate for their child.

Do you suppose the whole "floating to shore in a boat" thing is supposed to be a biblical reference?

• When we first see Beverly Penn she's being fitted for eyeglasses. The eye doctor hesitates to even enter the room when he finds out she has consumption, but she tells him not to worry because it's not "catching."

Um… consumption is just another word for tuberculosis, which most definitely is contagious. It's spread though the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. I wonder how many people Beverly infected due to her ignorance?

• Speaking of tuberculosis, one of the major symptoms of the disease is dramatic weight loss (hence the nickname "consumption"). In true movie fashion, Beverly shows absolutely zero visible effects and looks positively radiant for someone who's been given just months to live. She even plays the piano flawlessly, dances and does anything else she wants to do, rather than lie in bed gasping for breath like you'd expect.

• One last thing about consumption before I promise to stop. Beverly's sole symptom is a high fever. To counteract this, she sleeps in a tent on the roof of her family's mansion, so the cold winter air will cool her body temperature.

Was that really ever a thing? Did people in the early 1900s really sleep outside to lower their fever? Methinks not, and this was an attempt to romanticize her condition.

And even if sleeping in the cold air really would lower her temperature, what the hell did she do in the summer? New York City gets miserable hot in July.

• Peter meets Beverly's little sister Willa in 1916. Willa looks like she's around 6 years old. He next meets her in 2014, when she's (still) working at the New York Times. She looks damned good for a woman of at least 104! I think somebody forgot to do the math here. Or is Willa another character who can't die "until their special purpose is finished?"

• The film tries to create a world full of rules and mythology, but none of it ever makes much sense. Peter's horse turns out to be his "spirit guide," but we never find out exactly why it chose to appear and help him. 

Later Peter flees to upstate New York, but Soames can't follow because he's restricted to the city. Why, we have no idea. Something vague about "ancient rules and boundaries." Soames even goes to the Devil to ask that the rules be lifted, but his request is denied, like a boss canceling an employee's request for time off.

I have a feeling the mythology was fleshed out a lot more in the novel, but didn't make it into the film. Too bad, as that might have helped the story make more sense.

There's a lot of downright awful dialog in the film, most of it uttered by Beverly. Early in the film she says, "The sicker I become, the more I can see that everything is connected by light!" Later she wonders, "Is it possible to love someone so much they can't die?" 

By the way, the latter line is obviously meant to explain how Peter can possibly still be alive in 2014. Nice try, movie.

• Will Smith makes an uncredited cameo in the film as the Devil. Uncredited so his appearance would be a surprise, or uncredited as in "please take my name off this film?"

Director Goldsman says he cast Smith in the role because "I wanted the most charming man in the world to play the Devil. And he's the most charming man in the world."

• When we first see the Devil, it's 1916 and he's reading a copy of A Brief History Of Time. You know, the book written by Steven Hawking in 1988. I guess that's a joke, to show us that time means nothing to him. Or something.

• Pearly Soames is some kind of demon in the employ of the Devil. As a sign of this, he has three lines shaved into the hair on both sides of his head, like a 1990s rap singer or someone who isn't very good at being their own barber.

In order to fight Peter outside of New York, Soames has to renounce his demon-ness and become human. When he does so, the stripes in his hair fill in. I guess they were supposed to represent some sort of mark of the beast or something?

• Peter goes to the New York Times to look up old records on microfiche (and to hopefully jumpstart his memory). I guess despite the fact that he's been around for almost 130 years, he's never heard of computers or Google.

• I'm wondering just who this movie is for. Men will likely be put off by the chick flick love story aspect of it. Women will probably not appreciate the violence and the angel and demon elements. It's a movie without an audience, so to speak.

This might help explain why the film's only grossed $11 million after two weeks.

Winter's Tale is a clumsy, meandering mish-mash of genres that never quite figures out what it's about or who it's for. I give it a C+.

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