Coherence 2013 drama mystery sci-fi fantasy
Shot in only five days with an unknown, yet talented ensemble cast and mostly improvised scenes and dialogue, Coherence is a master example of what can be achieved with a modest budget, some good luck and plenty of inventiveness. It also has one of my very favorite sci-fi storylines: Parallel worlds or universe. The plot is simple: four couples are having a nice dinner party, and we, the audience, are like a fly on wall, watching their evening and wondering what the hell is going on. Coherence is a downward spiral of a movie where what appears is not exactly what it seems.
The movie is set in modern day California on the night that Miller’s Comet is visible from Earth, streaking across the dark sky with a long, fiery tail. There is no danger of the comet colliding with earth; the orbit is a safe distance away. But we soon learn the celestial event is not without strange affects, i.e. power and phone outages and cell phones self-destructing. So in a way, this movie is about the ancient practice of Astrology which is based on the belief that the position of the planets, moon, comets and stars in the sky can directly influence human life. If one has the slightest belief in Astrology, it is easy to suspend disbelief and just go with flow on this movie.
Stop reading here, if you are paranoid about mild spoilers.
So how does the comet influence people on earth, and what is “Coherence”? Simply put – the comet combines the parallel worlds; thereby, disrupting the logic and consistency of the real, or natural, world our eight main characters inhabit. People can change worlds simply by going outdoors to see the comet. Actually the movie should be titled, “Loss of Coherence”. The guests at the dinner party encounter slightly different versions of themselves. Gradually they take notice of the little things that are off kilter, and that leads to confusion, fear, panic, and even violence by the same peaceful, sane people who gathered for a polite dinner party. This behavior would have unthinkable only a few hours earlier, but remember the old saw that goes something like this: There is only a thin, delicate veneer separating the civilized from the barbaric. This movie is a good reminder how just the right amount of pressure can completely destroy that fragile veneer we take for granted.
The movie is a real Mind Bender and I have read negative reviews that complain about not keeping track of the characters. Well, that’s kinda the point here, and what makes it a fun movie. Here’s a few tips – let’s call the first house, prime, and the people in it are Em-prime, Hugh-prime, Kevin-prime and so forth. Keep your eyes on Em-prime as she is the only one of the cast the camera faithfully follows and it is really her story. Early in the film when Hugh-prime and Amir-prime leave the house, it is Hugh-2 and Amir-2 that returns, and that holds true for everybody that leaves the house, with the exception of Em-prime.
Sci-Fi movies these days tend to have so many similarities, that when a movie like this comes along, it’s refreshing to see something new. 'Coherence' is psychological science-fiction for a thinking person and it holds up much better than most big budget, pretentious science-fiction franchises. The movie is especially recommended for those who enjoy independent, minimalistic films.
The Cheap Detective 1978 crime comedy mystery
The lovely ladies of The Cheap Detective posing with Peter Falk: Clockwise beginning with Ann-Margaret (in fur coat), Marsha Mason, Stockard Channing, Louise Fletcher, Madeline Kahn, and Eileen Brennan. Gotta love those cool hats.
Not since the 1963 It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World had so many funny people gathered together for one film. Even mostly serious actors like Fernando Lamas, Louise Fletcher and Ann-Margaret seem to be having a ball just hamming it up. Peter Falk has a field day as Lou Peckinpaugh spoofing three of Humphrey Bogart’s most famous and beloved characters: Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon (1941); Rick Blaine from Casablanca (1942) and Philip Marlowe from The Big Sleep (1946). My favorite character, aside from Falk, is Eileen Brennan as Betty DeBoop doing an outstanding spoof of Lauren Bacall’s lounge singer, Marie “Slim” Browning from To Have and Have Not (1944). Set in 1940 San Francisco, with a delightful jumble of detectives, dames, Nazis, documents and a treasure hunt, you can't describe any kind of plot. The whole thing is so much wonderful nonsense. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. The other spoofs of the old school detective-mystery genre (Murder by Death and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid) are not near as funny as The Cheap Detective, making it easily the best of the three satires.
I suggest you watch the original Bogart movies, mentioned above, to better understand the in-jokes. I lost count how many times I have watched The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, and it is great fun introducing these classic films to film-noir rookies. If you are a fan of the Bogie movies which it satirizes, this is definitely a must-see. It is you, for whom this movie was written in the first place.
Magic in the Moonlight 2014 romance drama
The concept actually isn't bad. Stanley, the magician, is brought in to prove that Sophie is faking that she has psychic powers. She's so good at what she does, she ends up convincing him, and he falls in love with her. Sophie too ends up falling for him. It should have been a good and funny movie, but it was ruined by the lack of chemistry between the two stars – Emma Stone (Sophie) and Colin Firth (Stanley). The nearly thirty year age difference did not help. What could have been a charming romantic period piece/comedy turned bland, and totally devoid of humor. The story would make better sense had Stanley (Firth) wooed Sophie’s mother Mrs. Baker (played by Marcia Gay Harden). At least they are the same age, and Harden could have reprised Verna, her sexy femme fatale character from Miller’s Crossing. But leave it to Woodie to rob the cradle instead.
I enjoyed parts of the film. As we would expect from a Woody Allen period film, the Roaring 1920’s atmosphere is fun and well detailed. The picture is beautiful to look at. Skillfully shot on the French Riviera, the outdoor scenes arise as if from a dream; lush in beauty, serenity and luxury. Make no mistake, the upper class people know how to party and ENJOY their money. But the epic miscast of the two main stars brings the whole film crashing into the ground. Emma Stone, who I enjoyed watching in her two Zombieland movies, looks and acts like a little girl in this movie. Sophie travels around with her protective mother, wears an unflattering sack dress or childish sailor suit, and is made up to appear about 13 years old, far younger than her actual age (26). Stone never connects to her character. How could she?
No modern actor can play a cocky and arrogant English snob better than Colin Firth. And his act is best enjoyed when paired with comical situations, as in the excellent 2012 film Gambit, in which he was fantastically funny. This time, though, as Stanley, he went so deeply into the serious character that when he had to switch to the lighthearted “falling-in-love mode”, the transition was sharp, too sudden and not convincing. As if to announce the transition, he delivers a strange, brief soliloquy to the camera, violating the cardinal rule of “Show, don’t tell”. The whole anti-religion speech, direct from the pen of the Hebrew agnostic himself, was hilariously off and old fashioned. I did soldier on to the happy ending, but hesitate to recommend this movie to anyone but hardcore Allen fanboys.
Written by Ben Clark. Copyright 2016-2021. All rights reserved.